Dotted quarter notes are nothing more than a quarter note with a dot beside it. There is no mystery or deep philosophy in the derivation of that name. It just simply describes exactly what this type of note looks like.
The Dot Rule
In order to mathematically understand how these notes work, we must remember the dot rule.
The dot rule says this: Add half the value of the note to the note.
How To Apply It
What is half the value of a quarter note? Since quarter notes are worth 1 count, half of 1 would be a 1/2. So, half the value of a quarter note equals a 1/2. A 1/2 a count represents the value of the dot.
We are now going to add 1/2 a count to the quarter note. How much do you get total? Yep, you get 1 ½ counts. This means a dotted quarter note is equal to 1 ½ counts total.
Don’t we need another 1/2 a count to bring the total number of counts up to a whole number? You are right. We can never have a 1/2 a count lingering in a measure of music. Each measure will always have a whole number (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) as the total number of counts.
For that reason, we usually find a dotted quarter note followed by another note or rest that is worth at least a 1/2 a count (and sometimes more) to bring the total number of counts up to a whole number.
A single eighth note is a very common note to find after (or sometimes before) a dotted quarter note. It is worth a 1/2 a count and evens things up nicely.
A rest you often find written before or after the dotted quarter note is the eighth rest. It is also valued at 1/2 a count and works well rhythmically and mathematically.
How To Count Them
Counting a dotted quarter note can feel a little awkward at first. To help with the process, let’s use a common rhythm pattern that puts this into practice.
You count the dotted quarter note as “1 & 2” with the eighth note as the “&” of count 2. Follow that with counts “3” and “4” for the remaining quarter notes.
If you are tapping your foot (and I hope you are), the foot goes down on “1” while playing the dotted quarter note. Keep holding the note while your foot moves up on the “&”, back down on “2”, and then play the eighth note on the “&” of 2. The foot is down on “3”, up on the “&”, down on count “4”, and up again on the “&”.
You will probably need to practice this several times to coordinate playing with counting in your head and foot tapping. It’s a lot to think about!
In my own experience, I have found this rhythm the first to be the most troublesome for everyone. Don’t feel bad or abnormal if you can’t get it immediately. This is usually the case for everyone.
1. Write this rhythm on a piece of paper and practice writing in the counting down below.
2. Now say the counting out loud while pointing your pencil to the rhythm.
3. Try saying the counting while tapping your foot to a steady beat. Make sure your foot is down on the numbers and up on the “&’s”. Really concentrate on what your foot is doing here.
4. For a real challenge, clap the rhythm and say the counting out loud while continuing to tap your foot steadily.
Now, you have really mastered this rhythm and I bet you will play or sing it perfectly every time.
The Secret To Mastery
Do you want to know what the real secret is to playing rhythms flawlessly every time? Always count in your head and tap your foot. That’s all! It’s really that big of a secret, now is it?
The dreaded dotted half notes have given folks a lot of trouble, but now you don’t have to let it bother you. Keep counting in your head, tapping your foot, and most importantly, don’t give up!
Like I said earlier, I have found this rhythm to be a troublemaker for a lot of people; however, I have never found anyone who could not master it!