We have already learnt about triplets. Just to refresh your memory, triplets are used when we want to play three notes in the space where there would normally be two: 

triplet reminder

The triplet (circled here) is marked with a “3”. Three quavers (eighth notes) take up the same amount of time as two normal ones. 

Triplets are very commonly seen in simple time signatures, when the composer wants to split the main beat into three, instead of two.

Duplets work in the opposite way – instead of writing three notes in place of two, we use a duplet to write two notes in place of three:

duplet example

This example is in 6/8. Normally the dotted crotchet (dotted quarter note) beat would be divided into three quavers (eighth notes), as in the first bar.

The duplet is used in the second bar, to divide the dotted note into just 2 quavers. It has the effect of making them a little bit slower than the regular quavers.

Click on the “play” button, to hear the duplets being played against a steady quaver (eighth note) beat:

Try singing along, so you get a feel of how the duplets need to be slowed down! 

Duplets are seen in compound time signatures, when the composer wants to split the main dotted beat into two, instead of three.

Questions about Duplets

In your music theory exam, there will might be one or two questions which involve duplets or triplets.

  • You might be asked to give the meaning of the symbol – for duplets, the answer is “play 2 notes in the time of 3,” and for triplets, write “play 3 notes in the time of 2.”
  • You might see duplets or triplets in the composing question (Trinity).
  • You might be asked to understand how a bar or two of music can be written, changing it from compound to simple time, or vice versa. This could involve some triplets and duplets. (ABRSM).