“Choir Triplets”

If you are not a musician, you might want to skip reading this, as you will find it quite boring.

I have found that most singers have a little problem when it comes to performing rhythms… they simply do not execute triplets properly.

I used to have this problem, too, until last year in a class myself and another percussionist were supposed to play a rhythm in a song written by one of our classmates. Everything was going fine, I feel like I have a good sense of pulse. However, when we got to the triplets, we played them differently! He explained to me what I was doing wrong, and I was shocked! What I was performing is what I have come to call a “choir triplet”, since I find that it happens a lot with singers in a choir.

In order to explain what a choir triplet is, let’s review what a real triplet is first. They look like this: 

And they sound like this (I have added snare drum in quarter notes to help you hear the meter): Triplets

Sounds easy enough, 2 against 3 is a relatively easy polyrhythm to perform. However, you may have been performing triplets this way all your life, and not even realizing it, just as I was doing:

This is what the fake triplets sound like: Fake triplets

They actually sound rather similar. Both “real” triplets and “fake” triplets take up two beats of time. However the difference between them is that in a real triplet, each note has the same duration, and in a fake one, the first two notes are actually longer than the last. So how different are the two rhythms, really? Click here to hear both rhythms played at the same time: Both

I realize now that every choir I have ever been in tends to perform triplets as the second rhythm. It does tend to make the choir slow down and lose the tempo of the piece. When all of the voices are singing the same rhythm, (homophony) it really isn’t too much of an issue. However, when you’re singing a piece like this…In Bethlehem…it can really fuck you up!