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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Offbeat Triplets (the "un-performable" rhythm)

Difficulty: 0

So, how do you play this rhythm?

It's a lot trickier than it might seem.

Wanky guitar shredders can play a million notes per second, completely out of time,

on "Betcha Can't Play This",

but I guarantee you none of them could accurately play this rhythm in time.

"Why would it be so hard? It's just quarter-note triplets.

Da-da-da, da-da-da, da. It's all that rhythm is."

Is it? "I mean yeah, look, quarter-note triplets.

It's just, you know, kind of like off-center a little bit, but that's all it is."

Well, I have a question for you then.

Where does the second quarter-note triplet land, in relationship to beat 2?

In other words, if you're going to start playing from the second quarter-note triplet,

when exactly would you start playing?

"Actually, I....


Yeah, it's kind of tricky.

The actual consensus in a drum forum about this very rhythm was that,

"it's one of those things that you can't think about too much."

That's not really helpful! And it's not like this rhythm just does not occur out in the real world.

It occurs in this salsa tune by Issac Delgado, and it's actually also over the bar line,

which adds another wrinkle to this whole thing.

( ♪ Isaac Delgado - "La Sandunguita")

This rhythm, and this recording, came up in a discussion in the "Music Engraving Tips" Facebook group.

There's a lot of hearty discussion about how to write the rhythm and how to perform the rhythm,

including one comment which suggested,

"After a moment of trying out different solutions, I came to the conclusion that the triplet is pretty much

unperformable at a slow tempo."

Well, that sounds like a challenge!

Now in most rhythms, we can start playing from any note within the pattern,

since we know its relationship to the underlying pulse.

For example, in this rhythm, this note falls on the "and" of 1.

We can't really do that with the offbeat quarter-note triplets, so in order to sort of break them down,

we're going to need to learn a little bit about "music preparation" - how music is written.

There's a tremendous amount of subtle psychology used in how music is laid out on the page.

Consider these two ways of writing the same piece of music.

When performed, both examples produce the same piece of music.

However, the second example is a lot more confusing for the performer.

On a simple glance, you cannot definitively point to an eighth note, like this one,

and say how it might relate to the underlying beat.

In the first example, however, you can see that relation to the downbeat.

This sixteenth note here acts as a reference placeholder to show you where the beat actually is.

The reference shows the pulse. Even though you're not playing that sixteenth note since it's been tied over,

you're feeling it, and the eye has a reference for that feeling.

We don't have that sort of visual reference for the offbeat quarter-note triplets.

We can't visualize the rhythm as it relates to the pulse,

so we can't feel the rhythm as it relates to the pulse.

"All right, hold up there. Because on regular quarter-note triplets, you still can't see where beat 2 is -

the quarter-note triplet goes through it - and yet, we don't consider that difficult. So, what gives?"

Well, that is very true. So, let's break down quarter-note triplets, so that we can see how they relate to the pulse.

Now by definition, three quarter-note triplets take the same amount of time as two regular quarter notes.

Just the same way that you can break down a quarter note into two eighth notes,

you can break down a quarter-note triplet into two eighth-note triplets.

So with that knowledge, quarter-note triplets could be written like this:

as tied groups of two eighth-note triplets apiece.

We now have a visual placeholder for where the beat lies: right here.

"Alright, so we'll just break down the quarter-note triplet Into groups of two eighth-note triplets,

and then just move it over a beat, right? That'll work."

Well, unfortunately not.

Because these groupings of eighth-note triplets actually fall off the beat.

This grouping of eighth-note triplets, for example, falls on the "and" of 2,

so we still aren't able to visualize exactly where the pulse is

However, we are very close.

Just the same way as you can think of a quarter-note triplet as two eighth-note triplets,

you can think of an eighth-note triplet as two sixteenth-note triplets.

If we do that, we can break it down again.

Now each quarter-note triplet has been broken into four sixteenth-note triplets,

and now we can visualize where beat 2 is. It's right here.

When we reduce down some of the tied sixteenth-note triplets to eighth notes, the final rhythm looks like this.

It looks fairly complicated, but now we have a framework for actually practicing it.

From here we can tease out a simpler version of the musical notation without actually changing the music itself,

and this will be useful for when we go back and practice it.

First, we're going to double all of the note values.

When we do this, it's the same music but it's just twice as slow,

so we're going to make up for that by doubling the tempo.

We can simplify it even further by slowing down all the note values by a factor of 3.

This turns all of the eighth-note triplets into quarter notes,

and it turns a single quarter-note rest into three quarter-note rests.

In order to make up for the slower note values, we're going to triple the tempo,

and then when we reduce all of the rhythms down, the final product is gonna look like this.

So, these three rhythms are the same, but look very different.

We wrote, or "prepared", the music three different ways for different purposes.

The first way conveys the idea of the music: offbeat quarter-note triplets.

The second way aids in performance to show where the beat lands,

and the third way simplifies things so that it might be easier to conceptualize for practice.

"Wow. That was a lot of work just to learn how to play a rhythm that I probably won't ever use.

I mean, at least now I understand it."

That's great! And honestly, that's the most important thing: conceptualizing it.

Many people don't think it through, for one reason or another.

The practice of faking tricky music - just sort of approximating it - is widespread,

especially among classical orchestral musicians.

In June 2006, The Strad published a now infamous exposé

on the practice of faking difficult passages in professional orchestras,

and gave a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of all the tips necessary in order to fake.

"Aim for the first of every qrouping (triplets, quavers, and so on).

It's amazing how often the fiddly notes in between will find themselves if you give them a sporting chance."

"Whoa, I'm gonna stop you there, chill out on ragging on the classical musicians.

Just uh, y'know, last time you did that you got in trouble."

Alright, alright! Yeah, you're absolutely right.

Might as well, you know, play the rhythm that we've been talking about now anyway,

just to prove that I haven't been making this whole thing up.

What does the rhythm actually sound like?

( ♪ Adam Neely - "Offbeat Quarter-Note Triplets")

Well, there it is, that's the rhythm. The process here is the important part -

breaking down rhythms to their component parts,

and then understanding them in relationship to an underlying pulse.

Even really hard rhythms like this one, the offbeat quarter-note triplet,

can be understood and performed - even at slow tempos.

Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching! My name is Adam Neely.

I have a new video coming out every Monday. If you enjoy what I do, please consider joining my Patreon,

because it's through my patrons over at Patreon I'm able to do this every week.

So thank you so much for watching and until next time -


The Description of Offbeat Triplets (the "un-performable" rhythm)