In music, a tuplet (also irrational rhythm or groupings, artificial division or groupings, abnormal divisions, irregular rhythm, gruppetto, extra-metric groupings, or, rarely, contrametric rhythm) is "any rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of equal subdivisions from that usually permitted by the time-signature (e.g., triplets, duplets, etc.)"[1] This is indicated by a number, or sometimes two indicating the fraction involved. The notes involved are also often grouped with a bracket or (in older notation) a slur.

\new RhythmicStaff {
   \clef percussion
   \time 4/4
   \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 80
   c4 \tuplet 3/2 { c8 c c }
   c4 \tuplet 5/4 { c16 c c c c }
Rhythm with tuplets: a triplet on the second beat and a quintuplet on the fourth

The most common type of tuplet is the triplet.


The modern term 'tuplet' comes from a rebracketing of compound words like quintu(s)-(u)plet and sextu(s)-(u)plet, and from related mathematical terms such as "tuple", "-uplet" and "-plet", which are used to form terms denoting multiplets (Oxford English Dictionary, entries "multiplet", "-plet, comb. form", "-let, suffix", and "-et, suffix1"). An alternative modern term, "irrational rhythm", was originally borrowed from Greek prosody where it referred to "a syllable having a metrical value not corresponding to its actual time-value, or ... a metrical foot containing such a syllable" (Oxford English Dictionary, entry "irrational"). The term would be incorrect if used in the mathematical sense (because the note-values are rational fractions) or in the more general sense of "unreasonable, utterly illogical, absurd".

Alternative terms found occasionally are "artificial division",[2] "abnormal divisions",[3] "irregular rhythm",[4] and "irregular rhythmic groupings".[5] The term "polyrhythm" (or "polymeter"), sometimes incorrectly used instead of "tuplets", actually refers to the simultaneous use of opposing time signatures.[6]

Besides "triplet", the terms "duplet", "quadruplet", "quintuplet", "sextuplet", "septuplet", and "octuplet" are used frequently. The terms "nonuplet", "decuplet", "undecuplet", "dodecuplet", and "tredecuplet" had been suggested but up until 1925 had not caught on.[7] By 1964 the terms "nonuplet" and "decuplet" were usual, while subdivisions by greater numbers were more commonly described as "group of eleven notes", "group of twelve notes", and so on.[8]


The most common tuplet[9] is the triplet (German Triole, French triolet, Italian terzina or tripletta, Spanish tresillo). Whereas normally two quarter notes (crotchets) are the same duration as a half note (minim), three (triplet) quarter notes have that same duration, so the duration of one of a triplet (three) quarter note is 23 the duration of a standard quarter note.


Similarly, three (triplet) eighth notes (quavers) are equal in duration to one quarter note. If several note values appear under the triplet bracket, they are all affected the same way, reduced to 23 their original duration.


The triplet indication may also apply to notes of different values, for example a quarter note followed by one eighth note, in which case the quarter note may be regarded as two triplet eighths tied together.[10]


In some older scores, rhythms like this would be notated as a dotted eighth note and a sixteenth note as a kind of shorthand[11] presumably so that the beaming more clearly shows the beats.

Tuplet notationEdit


Tuplets are typically notated either with a bracket or with a number above or below the beam if the notes are beamed together. Sometimes, the tuplet is notated with a ratio (instead of just a number) — with the first number in the ratio indicating the number of notes in the tuplet and the second number indicating the number of normal notes they have the same duration as — or with a ratio and a note value.



Simple meterEdit

For other tuplets, the number indicates a ratio to the next lower normal value in the prevailing meter (a power of 2 in simple meter). So a quintuplet (quintolet or pentuplet[12] indicated with the numeral 5 means that five of the indicated note value total the duration normally occupied by four (or, as a division of a dotted note in compound time, three), equivalent to the second higher note value. For example, five quintuplet eighth notes total the same duration as a half note (or, in 3
or compound meters such as 6
, 9
, etc. time, a dotted quarter note).


Some numbers are used inconsistently: for example septuplets (septolets or septimoles) usually indicate 7 notes in the duration of 4—or in compound meter 7 for 6—but may sometimes be used to mean 7 notes in the duration of 8.[13] Thus, a septuplet lasting a whole note can be written with either quarter notes (7:4) or eighth notes (7:8).


To avoid ambiguity, composers sometimes write the ratio explicitly instead of just a single number. This is also done for cases like 7:11, where the validity of this practice is established by the complexity of the figure. A French alternative is to write pour ("for") or de ("of") in place of the colon, or above the bracketed "irregular" number.[14] This reflects the French usage of, for example, "six-pour-quatre" as an alternative name for the sextolet.[15][16]

There are disagreements about the sextuplet (pronounced with stress on the first syllable, according to Baker[17]—which is also called sestole, sestolet, sextole, or sextolet.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] This six-part division may be regarded either as a triplet with each note divided in half (2 + 2 + 2)—therefore with an accent on the first, third, and fifth notes—or else as an ordinary duple pattern with each note subdivided into triplets (3 + 3) and accented on both the first and fourth notes. This is indicated by the beaming in the example below.


Some authorities treat both groupings as equally valid forms,[24][25][19][26][27] while others dispute this, holding the first type to be the "true" (or "real") sextuplet, and the second type to be properly a "double triplet", which should always be written and named as such.[28][29][30] Some go so far as to call the latter, when written with a numeral 6, a "false" sextuplet.[17][31][32] Still others, on the contrary, define the sextuplet precisely and solely as the double triplet,[21][33] and a few more, while accepting the distinction, contend that the true sextuplet has no internal subdivisions—only the first note of the group should be accented.[34][30][23])

Compound meterEdit

In compound meter, even-numbered tuplets can indicate that a note value is changed in relation to the dotted version of the next higher note value. Thus, two duplet eighth notes (most often used in 6
meter) take the time normally totaled by three eighth notes, equal to a dotted quarter note. Four quadruplet (or quartole) eighth notes would also equal a dotted quarter note. The duplet eighth note is thus exactly the same duration as a dotted eighth note, but the duplet notation is far more common in compound meters.[35]


A duplet in compound time is more often written as 2:3 (a dotted quarter note split into two duplet eighth notes) than 2:1+12 (a dotted quarter note split into two duplet quarter notes), even though the former is inconsistent with a quadruplet also being written as 4:3 (a dotted quarter note split into four quadruplet eighth notes).[36]

Nested tupletsEdit

On occasion, tuplets are used "inside" tuplets. These are referred to as nested tuplets.



Tuplets can produce rhythms such as the hemiola or may be used as polyrhythms when played against the regular duration. They are extrametric rhythmic units. The example below shows sextuplets in quintuplet time.


Tuplets may be counted, most often at extremely slow tempos, using the least common multiple (LCM) between the original and tuplet divisions. For example, with a 3-against-2 tuplet (triplets) the LCM is 6. Since 6 ÷ 2 = 3 and 6 ÷ 3 = 2 the quarter notes fall every three counts (overlined) and the triplets every two (underlined):

1 2 3 4 5 6

This is fairly easily brought up to tempo, and depending on the music may be counted in tempo, while 7-against-4, having an LCM of 28, may be counted at extremely slow tempos but must be played intuitively ("felt out") at tempo:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

To play a half-note (minim) triplet accurately in a bar of 4
, count eighth-note triplets and tie them together in groups of four


With a stress on each target note, one would count: 1 – 2 – 3  1 – 2 – 3  1 – 2 – 3  1 – 2 – 3  1 The same principle can be applied to quintuplets, septuplets, and so on.

Quadruplet figure in drummingEdit

According to Jon Peckman, in drumming, "quadruplet" refers to one group of three sixteenth-note triplets "with an extra [non-tuplet eighth] note added on to the end", thus filling one beat in 4
time,[37] with four notes of unequal value. Shown below is a quadruplet with each note on a different drum in a kit used as a fill.[38]


See alsoEdit



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  • Cooper, Paul. 1973. Perspectives in Music Theory: An Historical-Analytical Approach. New York: Dodd, Mead. ISBN 0-396-06752-2.
  • Cunningham, Michael G. 2007. Technique for Composers. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. ISBN 1-4259-9618-3.
  • Damour, Antoine, Aimable Burnett, and Élie Elwart. 1838. Études élémentaires de la musique: depuis ses premières notions jusqu'à celles de la composition: divisées en trois parties: Connaissances préliminaires. Méthode de chant. Méthode d’harmonie. Paris: Bureau des Études élémentaires de la musique.
  • Donato, Anthony. 1963. Preparing Music Manuscript. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Unaltered reprint, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1977 ISBN 0-8371-9587-X.
  • Dunstan, Ralph. 1925. A Cyclopædic Dictionary of Music. 4th ed. London: J. Curwen & Sons, 1925. Reprint. New York: DaCapo Press, 1973.
  • Gehrkens, Karl W. 1921. Music Notation and Terminology. New York and Chicago: A. S. Barnes.
  • Hubbard, William Lines. 1924. Musical Dictionary, revised and enlarged edition. Toledo: Squire Cooley. Reprinted as The American History and Encyclopedia of Music. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-4179-0200-0.
  • Humphries, Carl. 2002. The Piano Handbook. San Francisco: Backbeat Books; London: Hi Marketing. ISBN 0-87930-727-7.
  • Jones, George Thaddeus. 1974. Music Theory: The Fundamental Concepts of Tonal Music Including Notation, Terminology, and Harmony. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0-06-460137-4.
  • Kastner, Jean-Georges. 1838. Tableaux analytiques et résumé général des principes élémentaires de musique. Paris.
  • Lobe, Johann Christian. 1881. Catechism of Music, new and improved edition, edited and revised from the 20th German edition by John Henry Cornell, translated by Fanny Raymond Ritter. New York: G. Schirmer. (First edition of English translation by Fanny Raymond Ritter. New York: J. Schuberth 1867.)
  • Kennedy, Michael. 1994. "Irregular Rhythmic Groupings. (Duplets, Triplets, Quadruplets)". Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, associate editor, Joyce Bourne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-869162-9.
  • Köhler, Louis. 1858. Systematische Lehrmethode für Clavierspiel und Musik: Theoretisch und praktisch, 2 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel.
  • Latham, Alison (ed.). 2002. "Sextuplet [sextolet]". The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866212-2.
  • Marx, Adolf Bernhard. 1853. Universal School of Music, translated from the fifth edition of the original German by August Heinrich Wehrhan. London.
  • Peckman, Jon. 2007. Picture Yourself Drumming: Step-by-Step Instruction for Drum Kit Setup, Reading Music, Learning from the Pros, and More. Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Course Technology. ISBN 1-59863-330-9.
  • Read, Gardner. 1964. Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice. Boston: Alleyn and Bacon. Second edition, Boston: Alleyn and Bacon, 1969., reprinted as A Crescendo Book, New York: Taplinger, 1979. ISBN 0-8008-5459-4 (cloth), ISBN 0-8008-5453-5 (pbk).
  • Riemann, Hugo. 1884. Musikalische Dynamik und Agogik: Lehrbuch der musikalischen Phrasirung auf Grund einer Revision der Lehre von der musikalischen Metrik und Rhythmik. Hamburg: D. Rahter; Saint Petersburg: A. Büttner; Leipzig: Fr. Kistnet.
  • Schonbrun, Marc. 2007. The Everything Music Theory Book: A Complete Guide to Taking Your Understanding of Music to the Next Level. The Everything Series. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media. ISBN 1-59337-652-9.
  • Sembos, Evangelos C. 2006. Principles of Music Theory: A Practical Guide, second edition. Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press. ISBN 1-4303-0955-5.
  • Shedlock, Emma L. 1876. A Trip to Music-Land: An Allegorical and Pictorial Exposition of the Elements of Music. London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh: Blackie & Son.
  • Stainer, John, and William Alexander Barrett. 1876. A Dictionary of Musical Terms. London: Novello, Ewer and Co.
  • Taylor, Franklin. 1879–1889. "Sextolet". A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450–1883) by Eminent Writers, English and Foreign, 4 vols, edited by Sir George Grove, 3:478. London: Macmillan and Co.
  • Taylor, Franklin. 2001. "Sextolet, Sextuplet." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Troeger, Richard (2003). Playing Bach on the Keyboard: A Practical Guide. Pompton Plains, New Jersey: Amadeus Press. p. 172. ISBN 1574670840. OCLC 52424125.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  •   Media related to Tuplet at Wikimedia Commons