I’m starting a new series on Thursdays, called Theory Thursday. Each Thursday, I’ll highlight parts of music theory and share a bit about them. Today, I’m focusing on a dotted note. What is a dotted note? When a dot is added next to a note.
When I teach dotted notes to students, I talk about how the dot isn’t an extra drop of ink that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s put next to the note for a reason! I tell students that the dot adds half of the value of the note to the note. What does that mean? For example:
This is a dotted half note. Normally, without the dot, the note gets held for 2 counts. BUT with the dot, we take half of the length of the note (half of 2 is 1) and add it to the note…which means that a dotted half note gets 3 counts!
This is a dotted quarter note. Normally, without the dot, the note gets held for 1 count. BUT with the dot, we take half of the length of the note (half of 1 is…..1/2???) and add it to the note. And this is where things get a bit trickier. Yes, there is a note that gets half of a beat. It’s called an eighth note, and that normally messes students up. But, the dotted quarter note gets 1 and a half beats. A couple of examples of a dotted rhythm would be the “All the way” part of the song “Jingle Bells” or “To the world” part of the song “Joy to the World”.
Yes can also get smaller and smaller lengths for dotted notes, but these two are the ones that students will primarily see. Just cut the length of the note in half and add it to the note, and you’ll be fine!
When my grandmother gave me her piano when I was in 4th grade, she included many things with it. Sheet music, a lamp, even a padded cushion for the bench! But the most important thing that she passed on with the piano to me was her metronome. She had played piano and cello for much of her life, and I know that metronome gave her much assistance in playing music.
But as for me, I learned to HATE that metronome. Do you know why I hated it? Because I either played faster or slower than the speed of the metronome. So, it quickly became an annoying reminder of the fact that I was off. It aggravated and frustrated me. But now, as a more mature and well seasoned musician, I know better.
I will still use that metronome (or the app on my phone) for difficult passages that I’m trying to work out. But, the most important thing for me is that I start slower than the finished product will be. Why? Because if I can get it down and confident at a slower speed, as I slowly increase the speed, it will become easier.
I encourage my students to use a metronome, not because I want them to be ahead or behind the beat. I want them to be on the beat. It is possible to do, and when you effectively use the metronome at a slower speed, then you will find yourself being more competent and steadier in your tempo without having to use it!
Dotted quarter notes going to eighth notes are challenging for students. Why? It gets into subdividing (making smaller) the beat. I clearly remember when I was a young student being SO MAD because that quarter note should get 2 counts! Well….no. The quarter note gets one and a half counts. So what does that mean? It gets the first and second halves of the beat (the numbered count and typically the word “and” or whatever you use to subdivide) along with the first half (the numbered count) of the next beat. The eighth note gets the second half of the beat (the “and” or whatever you use to subdivide). Obviously, this dotted quarter note to eighth note rhythm can be a challenging when it’s put in front of students in music. There are SO many songs that we know and sing (especially at Christmastime) that have this dotted quarter note to eighth note rhythm.
Some examples of the dotted rhythm?
“Deck the Halls”: The words Deck and the are a dotted quarter note to eighth note.
“Angels We Have Heard on High”: The words heard and on are a dotted quarter note to eighth note
“O Christmas Tree”: The second time the word tree is sung, that word and the word Thy are a dotted quarter note to eighth note
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”: The word herald is a dotted quarter note to eighth note
“Silent Night”: The word silent is a dotted quarter note to eighth note
The fun of these songs is that whether or not you’re a note reader, you know this rhythm. And it shows up in so many more songs, Christmas or otherwise. When you’re looking for them, they jump out at you! So go look for them!