How dotted notes work, part 1


Welcome to the first part of a two-parter on how to read dotted notes in music. Today’s video focuses on the simpler dots (dotted whole note, half note and quarter note), while the next video tackles the smaller, more difficult dots (dotted eighth and sixteenth notes). Enjoy!

How basic dotted notes work


So here we have a few different types of dotted notes – the dotted whole note, dotted half note, and dotted quarter note. You might remember that the dotted half note gets 3 beats, but what about the other dotted notes?

Here’s exactly what the dot does: it adds half of the note’s beat to itself. So with a dotted half note, the half note gets 2 beats. The dot adds half a half note – which is 1 beat. So 2 plus 1 is three, making this note get three counts.

Now let’s look at the dotted whole note. The whole note by itself gets four. So what’s half a whole note? Two! So a dotted whole note would be four plus two, so six beats.

Lastly, we have the dotted quarter note. It’s fraction time. A quarter note gets 1 beat, and the dot adds half of 1 beat…which is half a beat. So the dotted quarter note gets 1 and a half beats.

Counting a dotted quarter note

Dotted quarter notes get one and a half beats, and are often – but not always – paired with an 8th note, which, if you add the two notes together, get two beats. Now if you remember how to count 8th notes, instead of just counting 1, 2, 3, 4 – we need another subdivision so that these 8th notes are accounted for and not just hanging out in outer space. Instead, we count like this:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ..

The dotted quarter note gets the first beat and a half: 1 + 2.

The eighth note tailing along at the end gets the remaining + beat.

Here’s an example from Teach Me Piano, illustrating how the dotted quarter note is counted in context of a 4/4 measure.

Note: Dotted notes aren’t always followed by the note that makes them complete, though it is very common. In 6/8 time, for example, dotted quarter notes often roam freely as they please.


So the takeaway is: the dot adds half the notes value to itself. In the next video we’re going to look at even smaller subdivisions – like dotted 8th notes and 16th notes. I hope you like thinking in fractions!

Check it out: how dotted notes work, part 2.



Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

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