Triple metre (or triple meter, also known as triple time) is a musical metre characterized by a primary division of 3 beats to the bar, usually indicated by 3 (simple) or 9 (compound) in the upper figure of the time signature, with 3/4, 3/2, and 3/8 being the most common examples. The upper figure being divisible by three does not of itself indicate triple metre; for example, a time signature of 6/8 usually indicates compound duple metre, and similarly 12/8 usually indicates compound quadruple.
It is reasonably common in ballads and classical music but much less so in traditions such as rock & roll and jazz. The most common time in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop is quadruple. Although jazz writing has become more adventurous since Dave Brubeck's seminal Time Out, the majority of jazz and jazz standards are still in straight quadruple time.
Movements in triple time characterized the more adventurous approach of 17th and 18th Century music, for example the Sarabande, which originated in Latin America and appeared in Spain early in the 16th Century, became a standard movement in the suite during the baroque period. The baroque sarabande is commonly a slow triple rather than the much faster Spanish original, consistent with the courtly European interpretations of many Latin dances. The sarabande form was revived in the 20th Century by composers such as Debussy, Satie and, in a different style, Vaughan Williams (in Job) and Benjamin Britten (in Simple Symphony)
Tunes in triple metre tend to be more lyrical and less martial than those in duple meter. Consequently, for example, triple meter is rare in national anthems -- the national anthems of the United Kingdom and United States being two notable exceptions.
In Mozart's Requiem triple time is used in the Recordare, Hostias and Agnus Dei as a contrast to the more robust two- and four-in-a-bar of the rest of the work, giving these movements a more reflective feel.
Triple metre in song
There are many classical songs in triple metre. Bist du bei mir, from Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (but the melody originally by Stölzel) is in triple metre; Bach's Jesu, joy of man's desiring is an interesting composite with the melody marked in a compound triple 9/8 and the underlying harmony in 3/4.
Franz Schubert composed several lieder in triple time, including, from his 1824 set Die Schöne Müllerin, the songs Am Feierabend, Der Müller und der Bach, Des Müllers Blumen, Halt!, Morgengruss, Tränenregen and Ungeduld.
In hymns and other religious works it is still common, with tunes such as Dave Bilborough's Abba, Father following from more traditional melodies such as Slane (adapted form a traditional Irish melody), Cloisters (written in the 16th Century), and Amazing Grace.
Examples of triple metre in contemporary pop music
In contemporary pop traditions (Soul, Rap, R&B, Rock) triple metre is much less common but examples do exist. The Beatles provide four examples entirely or in part triple metre: "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "She's Leaving Home," the verses (but not the chorus) of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" from the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as "I Me Mine" from 1970 album Let It Be. Numerous songs by Queen have been in triple meter, most often in 6/8- granted 6/8 is actually a form of compound duple meter, not triple (such as We Are The Champions, I'm in Love with My Car and Somebody to Love). A more recent example of triple metre in contemporary pop is the 1992 Toad the Wet Sprocket single, "Walk on the Ocean". Manic Depression from the 1967 album, Are You Experienced? by Jimi Hendrix, "My Name Is Jonas" from Weezer's 1994 album, Weezer (Blue Album) and "Viking Death March" from Billy Talent's 2012 album, Dead Silence are rare up-tempo hard rock examples. SWV's R&B hit "Weak" mentions the lyrics "cause my heart starts beating triple time" but the song is in 4/4 time. The song "FML" by deadmau5 is a rare example of triple metre in electronic music.
- Schroedl, Scott (2001). Play Drums Today!, p.42. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-634-02185-0.