Mixed Meter, Triplets, and Duplets

In this section, we’ll work on mixing simple and compound beats in different ways. We’ll do so while working primarily with the rhythmic cells we’ve studied so far. It’ll help to have begun internalizing them, since we’re now focused on their relationships.

When moving back and forth between simple and compound beats, there are two possible approaches we could take.

When every beat is the same length, we typically decide which beat type we consider “primary” (simple or compound), then call the other beat type a “tuplet” when it occurs. If our primary beat type is simple but then there’s a compound beat inserted, we’ll call that compound beat a “triplet.” In the opposite case, where our primary beat type is compound but then there’s a simple beat inserted, we’ll call that simple beat a “duplet.” A triplet typically feels “sped up,” since compared to the surrounding beats it has more divisions in the same amount of time; a duplet typically feels “slowed down” for the opposite reason.

When, on the other hand, every beat division is the same length/speed, we typically call this “mixed meter.” In mixed meter, beats will simply be different lengths based on how many divisions they have. Now, instead of compound beats feeling “sped up,” they will be longer; and instead of simple beats feeling “slowed down,” they will be shorter.


Activity: Improvise and identify rhythms

Goal: Generate or identify the rhythmic cells with triplets/duplets or in mixed meter.

Before you start: This activity works best with at least one other person. But you can also do it on your own; just skip step 3.


  1. Identify one person to improvise.
  2. The improviser comes up with and performs a short rhythm (perhaps 4–6 beats long) made up entirely of the rhythmic cells defined above, plus optionally notes longer than a beat. The rhythm should either use the occasional triplet within a simple meter, use the occasional duplet within a compound meter, or use some combination of compound and simple beats while keeping the beat division the same length.
  3. The other student(s) first identifies the approach taken to mixing compound and simple, then identifies/identify which cells were used and in what order.

Activity: Read rhythmic cells

Goal: Notice when rhythmic cells occur in notated music.

Before you start: You’ll need a source of notated melodies or rhythms that mix compound and simple beats. Sight-reading anthologies are a good source; many have chapters on triplets, duplets, and/or mixed meter. You can do this activity vocally or on another instrument.


  1. Look over the notation, note the approach to meter, and set up an appropriate sense of meter internally. You may wish to go once through the excerpt simply “feeling” the meter and the ways it changes without worrying about the exact rhythms.
  2. Scan over the notation, identifying rhythmic cells. Be sure that you are keeping either the beat divisions or the beats the same length, as appropriate to the excerpt.
  3. Perform the rhythm, with or without pitch.

Activity: Find rhythmic cells “in the wild”

Goal: Develop sensitivity to rhythmic patterns as they occur in music.


  1. Listen to a song from the playlist below and determine its meter.
  2. Listen to the first 1–2 phrases of the song, identifying the approach to mixing simple and compound beats (triplets within simple meter, duplets within compound meter, or mixed meter).
  3. Identify the rhythmic cells used and their order.
  4. Optionally, identify an appropriate meter, time signature, and durational symbols that represent the music.

Suggest a song for this playlist!



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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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