Dotted Notes Music Definition Essay

The Dotted Note

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Simon (12 November 2017)

When learning an instrument the dotted note is something many students have a problem with. I am always answering questions such as

  • How many beats does a dotted crotchet have?
  • What does a dot after a note mean?
  • How do I count a dotted quaver?

I believe it is essential to know the theory behind how a dot following a note changes it. The rule is very simple

A dot after a note increases its duration (length)
by half its original value

Examples of how dotted notes work

Test Yourself

Test yourself by calculating the values of the dotted whole note (dotted semibreve) and dotted eighth note (dotted quaver) shown below. When you think you have worked out how many beats each note is worth click the note to find out if you are correct!

Calculate the value of the dotted eighth note and click to find if you are correct.

Calculate the value of the dotted whole note and click to find if you are correct

But how do I play it?

However, understanding how dotted notes work doesn't necessarily help you when you have to play them! When I was young I understood that a dotted quarter note (or dotted crotchet as I learned) was worth 1½ beats and usually followed by an eighth note (quaver) but that didn't actually help me when I was sitting at the piano trying to 'count' 1½ beats for the dotted quarter note and ½ beat for the eighth note! In the end I figured out that the easiest way to approach this was to just count the beats in the bar (1 2 3 4) and aim to fit the eighth note in the middle of the beats without trying to count 1½. I counted and on the eighth note to help me, but I didn't used to count and on the other beats as I found it too confusing. However, I have shown it both ways here as I know some of my students find this method of counting easier.

So my playing/counting went like this...

As I mentioned earlier, some people prefer to count all the beats (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) throughout the whole piece. I always found this method harder, but you should try both and see which you prefer.

Double dots

Some music even has more than one dot following a note. Click here for information on how to read and play notes with double dots

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You’ve probably seen this in music and you might have wondered exactly what a dot does to a note. To preface, we are not talking about staccato notes (which have dots above or below notes) but dots next to notes that look like this:



The short answer is that these dots change the length of a note.


The real question is how much does it change the length of a note? There is an explanation that many teachers and pianist use that might seem a little confusing. If you add a dot to a note it adds half the value of the note. With a little dissection this is easy enough to understand but trying to teach this to younger students can be a real challenge. Luckily, there is a simpler way to explain this.


I typically teach students what these dots mean using the following phrase: a dot after a note adds the value of the next faster note. This is really simple if you know all your notes because each note is half the value of the next note. For example, if you have a whole note, it’s the value of two half notes. This chart should help explain things a bit more:



So knowing this information, what would a dot do to each these notes? Luckily we have another chart here that will help explain it:



So a dot next to a whole note would mean that you would have a whole note plus the value of a half note. A half note with a dot next to it would mean you have a half note plus the value of a quarter note. The same rule applies for all notes with a dot next to them. I always encourage my students to think of dots next to notes as adding the value of the next faster note because it makes it easier to figure out.


There is even one more way of looking at this to break down dots next to notes that could be potentially easier for students. Breaking down the true value of notes with dots next to them actually doesn’t take any sort of addition at all. In this chart we break down the true value of each of these notes:



As you can see:


A dotted whole note = three half notes


A dotted half note = three quarter notes


A dotted quarter note = three eighth notes


A dotted eighth note = three sixteenth notes


When you think about it this way it could be even easier for you to break down rhythms. What about when you see two dots next to a note? This is going to be covered next time!


Thanks again for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any more questions or suggestions please feel free to send them to (949) 244-3729.


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