Using triplets is a good way to start improvising with poly rhythms in jazz. In this lesson I will talk about how you can use quarter note triplets and some of the different quarter note triplet rhythms you can make. I will also discuss how to use them to create the illusion of another groove on top of what you are playing.
In my first lesson on triplets: Triplet Rhythms – Part 1 I was mostly looking at 8th note triplets, since that is a good basic subdivision that is very related to swing. In this lesson I will take it to the next step above the swing groove: the quarter note triplets. If you are not familiar with 8th note triplets you should probably check out the first lesson mentioned above before getting into this one.
Similar to the first lesson I have decided to demonstrate 3 rhythms with an exercise and then give an example on a II V I in G where that rhythm is used rhythm.
Rhythm no 1: Quarter note triplets
In example 1 I have written a short simple exercise to hel practicing quarter note triplets. ONe way to connect this to 8th note triplets (which is easier to feel) is to play each note twice. You need to practice this so that you can play this in time and it feels natural and easy, especially watch out that the beats 2 and 4 are exactly between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the triplet.
In the line in example 2 I am using the quarter note triplets on both the Am7 and on the altered D7 chord. The part on the Am7 is first a scale run on starting from the root. The second part of the line is a quarter note triplet on a part of the Am7 arpeggio. On the D7 the entire line consists of quarter note triplets, but the melodic pattern is grouped in 2 notes so that the connection to the original groove is even furter away. In general if you group triplets in even numbers you will have a more poly rhythmic effect, not unlike using 8th or 16th notes in groups of uneven notes.
Rhythm 2: Shifting and staying in the groove
This rhythm is a sort of transition exercise because it will help with the last rhythm which is a quarter note triplet shifted on 8th note triplet (that sounds more complicated when you write it..) The rhythm is shown in example 3:
The fact that the rhythm contains all 4 beats of the bar makes it easier to feel and also to keep it in time.
The line using this rhythm starts out with two rhythms from the first lesson on the Am7 chord. It is for the rest a variation on the line used on the Am7 in example 2. On the D7alt I am using the rhythm from example 3 and using it to chain two arpeggios: A C dim triad and an EbmMaj7. It resolves the Eb to the 5th(D) of Gmaj7.
Rhythm 3 – Shifted or Upside down triplets
The 3rd rhythm is the same as the 1st one except that it is move an 8th note triplet (ahead or behind). This means that now the rhythm is not together with the meter on the 1 and 3, but instead on the 2 and the 4. In the exercise I keep it simple and start the melody after the 1 just to help you get an idea about how the rhythm feels.
The term upside down triplet is something I’ve learned from Dutch Bassplayer Heyn Van Der Geyn. There might be other names for the rhythm, but I didn’t come across them.
In the line the example is using the same rhythm on the D7, but we have an example of the rhythm in the version that is shifted so that it begins before beat 1. On the Am7 I am playing a fairly basic 8th note triplet rhythm (even if it looks a bit complicated written out). The D7 line consists of a three note pattern: a C dim triad played descending. The line begins before the 1 and resolves to the 5th of G before the next 1. The way the whole 3 note phrase on the D7alt is placed creates a lot of tension and also almost gives the impression that the beat is turned around. The resolution is also nicely vague until you afterwards can feel the groove continue under it (speaking as a listener).
When you want to work on this you should probably first get very comfortable with playing the exercises and feel the beat at the same time. You are also better of working on this with a metronome. It can also be very useful to make a few exercises on your own.
After that you can move on to making your own lines and trying to use these rhythms while playing songs.
If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here for later study you can do so here: Triplet rhythms – Part 2
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