Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 1This month we’re going to look at quarter- and 8th-note-triplet rhythms that are offset to the upbeats. When we talk about upbeats, we’re usually referring to the “&” counts between the quarter notes in a straight 8th or swung context. In the following exercises we’ll start triplets on upbeats instead of the usual downbeats. These upbeat triplet rhythms can open up new worlds of creativity, yet they’re not so far out that they’ll lose the average listener.

We’ll start with exercises that focus on upbeat quarter-note triplets. If you play a bar of 8th-note triplets and accent every other note, the accent pattern will be quarter note triplets. If you accent every other beat starting on the second note of the triplet, the accent pattern will be upbeat quarter-note triplets. Here are those rhythms, with a check pattern in between.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 2

Now play the same thing, but drop out the inner beats. This gives you quarter-note triplets and upbeat quarternote triplets in their pure form.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 3

A great example of upbeat triplets within a groove can be heard in the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” The hi-hat accent pattern consists of upbeat triplets set against a standard 6/8 groove. You can think of 6/8 time as 2/4 with a triplet feel, so there are two ways to count the hi-hat pattern (accents are in all caps): “one-TWO-three-FOUR-five-SIX” and “one-TRIP-let, TWO-trip-LET.” The groove looks like this:

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 4

Now we’re going to take things to the next level with upbeat 8th-note triplets. If you play a bar of sextuplets (aka 16th-note triplets) and accent every other note, the accent pattern will be 8th-note triplets. If you accent every other beat starting on the second 8th note of the triplet, the accent pattern will be upbeat 8th-note triplets. Here are those rhythms, with a check pattern in between.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 5

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 6

Now play the same thing, but drop out the inner beats. This gives you 8th-note triplets and upbeat 8th-note triplets in their pure form.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 7

Finally, let’s put some isolated upbeat 8th-note triplets into a straight 8th-note context. If we play the upbeat triplets starting on the “&” of beat 1, it’ll look like the following.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 8

Here’s a fun exercise where the 8th-note triplet shifts from one partial to the next until we’re back where we started. We’ve written the exercise using simple 8th-note-triplet groupings, even when they start on the upbeats (with the exception of when the triplets overlap beats 1 and 3). Try to play smooth triplets from one upbeat to the next without micromanaging each 16th-note partial.

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 9

Upbeat Triplets Breaking Free From the Downbeat 10

With all of these exercises, be sure to play with a metronome and tap your foot. You should also try counting quarter notes out loud through the exercises. If you can keep your counting smooth, then you’ve proved that you’re feeling the rhythms naturally. Once these patterns become part of your vocabulary, it’ll be fun to see how they manifest themselves on the kit. Enjoy!

Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.