How to play 3-over-2 and other complicated rhythms

This is what “3-over-2″ or “3 against 2″ or “2 against 3″ looks like:

3-over-2 with quarter notes

It’s a complicated rhythm that takes a while to get the hang of. In the bass clef are straight quarter notes but in the treble cleff are tuplets, which means three quarter notes played in the time of two regular ones.

So for every two quarter notes in the left hand, the right hand is supposed to play three quarter notes.

You might also encounter 3-over-2 with eighth notes:

3-over-2 with eighth notes

The principle is the same: two hands playing in different rhythms.

To get a feel for this rhythm, I suggest you take a walk:

  1. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on on each step. Left foot is 1, right foot is 2, left foot is 3, right foot is 4, and so on. You’re counting a regular 4/4 beat.
  2. Hold your arms by your side. Now slap both your hands on your legs as triplets: 123-123-123-123… So for each footstep, your hands hit your sides three times.
  3. Now alternate your hands: RLR-LRL-RLR-LRL, …
  4. Stopping hitting your leg with your left hand. Now your right hand is hitting the tuplets, i.e. the “3” from “3-over-2″.
  5. Hit your left hand twice for each foot step to play the duple notes, i.e the “2” from “3-over-2″.

It can be rather tricky at first to coordinate this, but with some practice — a long walk — you should get the hang of it.

Another approach is to count out the rhythm:

  1. First, count the triplets as one-and-two-and-three-and-, one-and-two-and-three-and-, …
  2. Then count it as one-two-and-three, one-two-and-three, …
  3. Play the left hand on one and the and between two and three.
  4. Play the right hand on one, two and three.

I hope this picture will make it a little clearer:

Counting out 3-over-2 example

Once you get a feel for this rhythm, it isn’t so hard to play anymore.

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory

Chords and Harmony

The Circle of Fifths

Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition

Reading Music and Sheet Music

How to Record Piano

Software and Virtual Instruments

Scales and Exercises

Digital Pianos

Links and Other Stuff


  1. Mr. Bob says:

    In Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, the difficulty starts to arise in the fifth measure where 8 notes in the right hand is against 6 in the left. In this case how do I play it?

  2. 84Fish48Fish says:

    It’s actually 3 against four.

  3. Alec says:

    I have been working on the sight reading studies at and there are four or five very difficult studies that have 3 against 4 and 4 against 5 and 3 against 2 etc.

  4. Pingback: V’Shamru « Tiven Weinstock | Composer

  5. Yves Loudieu says:

    I’m a drummer, and i frequently struggle this kind of polyrythms …
    My advice is to consider any polyrythms as a linear rythm. As far as rythm is concerned it’s really only maths and time division.
    What i did for example to play 6 on my Left Hand, 5 on my Right hand and 4 on my right foot for example is quite simple :
    I trace a line on a paper, make to marks. Then i subdivide this unit by 6, and 5 and 4.
    This give you a visualisation of how the notes are place each other.
    Then try to sing it.
    Once you master it vocaly.
    Apply it very slowly with your hands and feet. Once you master the sequence, mentally isolate each part of your body to make it very consistent.

    This is very effective and the foundation of any independance exercices on drums.


  6. Joel Christophel says:

    This is a very informative and creative tutorial. I had figured out the rhythm on my own, but this confirmed what I thought it was. Personally, I think the second approach will be the easiest way to understand it.

  7. Anonymous User says:

    The second approach is really helpful…hope I can get the hang of 3 against 2 soon…Thank you so much!!

  8. Surfpk says:

    I appreciate what you are saying very much I learned 3/2 when I was fourteen, BUT and a very very big BUT, 3/4 is entirely different as the idea of dividing 4 and puting 3 in between or vis/versa is and must be an illusion in order to be musical in other words human. I understand the urge to want to subdivide mathematically (I have it) but it is a crutch and not the truth for sure. This reminds me of calculus, you know… the area of a wine barrel, a fantasy that works with in limited reality(the limit), but reaching musical time ala say Fantasie Impromptu, requires stretching the boundaries of your psyche to reach ala metaphor towards the impossible goal of reconciling 3 against four, just like squaring the circle. I haven’t got it yet but I am sure this is the way towards that reconciliation. Thank you Chopin for opening the doorway.


  9. Julia says:

    In the first example, I would have used the crotchets in the bass to play the beat. I would fit the triplets in the treble clef in between the steady beats accordingly.

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