Guitar Triplets: How to Add Rhythmic Flavour into Your Solos

In this lesson on guitar strumming patterns I explain the basic subdivisions of the beat. To keep things simple, I have stuck to beats split into divisions of two. There are more options than this when creating music, and in this lesson, we’ll explore another group of rhythmic patterns: Guitar triplets.

This will be done in a three-step process. 

The first step is to see how triplets are notated, and how they sound.

The second step is to play exercises where guitar triplet patterns are used in combination with regular subdivisions of the beat.

The third step will be learning how to use these triplet patterns in your guitar improvisations and solos.

Step 1: Feeling the triplet

Before you can play triplets on the guitar, you need to understand what’s going on and get familiar with their sound.

In the following example, (a) is just one-quarter note (crotchet) being played on the beat, (b) is the quarter note divided into two eight notes (quavers), while in (c) the quarter note is divided into an eight-note triplet.

After listening to the next example enough times to get the sound of the triplet, play the whole example on your guitar using the given picking suggestions.

Following that, play it with a metronome and gradually increase the tempo.

Tabs created with Guitar Pro

The quarter note beat is not the only beat that can be divided into a triplet, though it is the most common.

Also commonly used in guitar riffs, licks and solos are sixteenth note triplets. A sixteenth note is also known as a semiquaver.

In the next example, (a) is a bar of two eight notes, (b) is two eight notes each divided in half – thus four sixteenth notes, while in (c) we have two groups of sixteenth note triplets.

Half notes can also be divided into triplets.

In the next example, (a) is a half note (minim), (b) is a half note divided into two-quarter notes (crotchets) and (c) is the half note divided into three quarter-note triplets.

Step 2: Playing guitar triplet patterns.

Though there may be parts of your solos where you play a series of consecutive triplets, in many cases the triplet pattern is played in conjunction with other rhythmic patterns to make the whole melody more interesting and expressive.

The next examples are exercises on playing rhythms that include triplet subdivisions.

Being able to play them fluently is a necessary step before starting to use triplets on the guitar.

Example 1: Eight note triplets

Example 2: Sixteenth note triplets

Example 3: Quarter note triplets

Step 3: Using triplets to create music

Applying everything you learn will speed up your guitar learning progress and significantly increase your motivation to practice the guitar.

Which is what we’ll be doing with guitar triplets.

In the first part of this step, I’ll give you an example of a guitar solo that makes use of triplets.

Learn this short extract well before creating your own, so that you get a clear idea of the rhythmic effect triplets can have on a melody.

Note that the solo uses phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato.

Rhythmic phrasing, in this case, the use of triplets, is only one aspect of phrasing that makes guitar music interesting. Another aspect is getting a different sound from the same note by applying such techniques.

Have you practiced all the guitar exercises and examples given in this lesson?

If yes, by now you can not only feel triplets, but also play them, and have a clear idea of how they can be used in a musical context.

The final step is to create your own music that includes triplet patterns.

To make things easier for you I’m giving you the opening of a short guitar solo using notes from the A minor pentatonic scale.

Experiment with giving this two-bar intro different endings in the four empty bars, and use guitar triplets in the music you create.

Conclusion: How to think of rhythmic patterns

When you learn a new musical concept, such as the rhythmic pattern explained in this lesson, that of the triplet, put it immediately into use.

When I learn a new rhythmic pattern, a new scale, chord, arpeggio, or any information or skill I acquire to improve my guitar playing, I put it immediately into practical use.

There are many advantages to this, which include:

  • What you learn will be completely ingrained in you and you won’t forget it in the future.
  • You’re not only training your guitar skills but also your creativity. Contrary to popular belief,  people are creative. The only reason “they don’t have creativity in them” is that they never train themselves to use it.
  • It helps you see connections. Connecting the dots when learning the guitar is very important. See the big picture. After learning a concept or gaining a skill, always use it in combination with the other concepts and skills you have already gained.
  • You will learn faster.
  • It’s more fun. Enjoying the process of learning the guitar is a crucial factor in developing an ideal guitar practicing mindset that leads to success.

While mastering triplets on the guitar, it’s a good idea to also look at other rhythmic patterns you already know and experiment in mixing and matching to get familiar with their use and see all the options in front of you when improvising or soloing.

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