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
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.
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.
Triple metre in song
There are many classical works in triple metre. Joseph Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony is an interesting case, as the first three movements are all in triple meter, as is the "farewell" section of the final movement.
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 verses of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" from The Beatles' 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, "Manic Depression" from the 1967 album, Are You Experienced?, by Jimi Hendrix, "You Ain't The First" from the 1991 album, Use Your Illusion I, by Guns N' Roses, "Waltz #2(XO)" and "Waltz #1" from Elliott Smith's 1998 album XO, the verses of "3 Libras" from the 2000 album, Mer de Noms, by A Perfect Circle and "It's About Time" from Young the Giant's 2014 album, Mind over Matter. Jimmy Buffett named his third album Living and Dying in 3
- Schroedl, Scott (2001). Play Drums Today!, p.42. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-634-02185-0.