Welcome to WebRhythms – an easy step-by-step method for learning to read rhythm, created by Vic Firth artist and educator Norm Weinberg. Starting at the very beginning, you’ll progress through 20 lessons, where each introduces a new topic. By the end of the series, you’ll be a master at reading rhythm!

In this WebRhythms lesson, we’ll explore dotted and tied notes. The exercise you’ll be working on in this lesson will include audio play-along tracks in five different levels that you can use to track your progress!


In this lesson, WebRhythms will cover dots and ties. We’re also going to look at a few new ways to write rhythms you already know how to play.

Music notation is a little weird. There are a few variations that composers and copyists can use to write the same rhythm. Last lesson, we talked about combining a sixteenth note followed by a sixteenth rest into a single eighth note. Combined values is one way that rhythms may change in their appearance. But, rhythmic figures can also make use of something called dots and ties.

Since dots are a little easier to understand, let’s cover them first. Dots (yes, they are nothing more than little dots that follow a note or a rest) extend the normal value of a note. The amount of extension depends upon the note’s value. Dots follow this rule: a dotted note equals three of the next smaller value. So, what does this actually mean?

A dotted quarter note will equal the duration of three eighth notes since eighths are the next smaller value below quarters. A dotted eighth note will be extended to equal the duration of three sixteenth notes. Again, sixteenths are the next smaller duration after eighths. A dotted half note is equal to the same duration as three quarter notes.

Dots can be applied to rests as well as notes. Dotted rests have the same duration as dotted notes, and you simply observe the entire duration as silence. One thing must be made clear at this point: the dot itself is not played. A dotted eighth note still has only one attack. It’s only the note’s duration that has been affected by the dot. Dots are always placed in a space on the staff, never on a line. If the note-head is in a space, then the dot is placed right after it. If the note-head is on a line, the dot is placed in the space above the line.

Taking a look at the following example, you see a dotted quarter as the first symbol in the first measure. Since this dotted quarter equals the same value as three eighth notes, play the note on count “one” and continue counting “+ 2” (but don’t play these syllables). The single eighth note that follows occurs on the “+” count of the second beat. At the beginning of the third beat, you see a dotted eighth note. This note falls on the beginning of the third beat and has the same value as three sixteenths. The sixteenth that follows comes on the “a” count of beat three. Of course, the quarter note that ends the measure falls on count four.

Most often, dotted notes are combined with the single note value that will complete a count. In other words, a dotted quarter is most often followed by an eighth note (this completes two full counts), and a dotted eighth note is usually followed by a sixteenth note (completing one full count). Don’t forget that either of these two notes (the dotted one or the single one) can be replaced with a rest of the same value.

The second measure of this example has the dotted note as the second note in a grouping. The first count of this measure is sometimes called the “Scotch Snap”, because it is often used in Scottish folk music. To perform this figure, play on the “1” and the “e” syllable only, as the dotted eighth gets the value of the last three sixteenth notes in the count. The third and fourth beat of the measure should be pretty easy to figure out. The eighth note falls on count 3, and the dotted quarter is struck on the “+” of the third count and takes up the remainder of the measure.

Now, let’s take a look at the tie. Ties are small curved lines that connect two or more notes. As their name implies, they “tie” notes together so that the first note has an extended duration. Let’s make believe that we’re dealing with pieces of string instead of notes. If you lay two strings end to end, you have two distinct starting points and two distinct ending points. If you tie them together, you would create one string. Because the string is now a single piece, there is only one beginning and one ending point. The string is longer, but now there are only two ends instead of four.

When two notes are tied together, you attack the first note at its normal position within the measure. The duration of the first note continues until the end of the second note. The second note is not attacked separately (it has magically become part of the first). In percussion music, where only some of the instruments deal with duration, you can follow this simple rule: play the first note of a tie and leave out the second. The end result is the same as if the second note were a rest. Keep in mind, this rule works only for instruments that have virtually no duration such as snare drum and wood block. Rests indicate silence, and the tie actually increases the duration of a note. One more thing about ties, they are never used to connect notes and rests together.

In example 2, the first and second measures would sound the same on a snare drum (might not sound the same if played on timpani, cymbals, or marimba). Because of the tie, the eighth note that falls on count two has become part of the quarter note, so it isn’t played with a fresh attack. The third beat of the measure begins with an eighth tied to a sixteenth note. Now, the eighth note is extended to include the value of the sixteenth. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that this first measure and the first measure in example 1 are exactly the same in every respect.

Even though a dotted quarter followed by an eighth is the same as a quarter tied to an eighth, don’t become confused. Ties and dots are not the same thing. Ties can be used to connect notes of any value. It is possible to tie two quarter notes together, two sixteenth notes together, or even to tie a half note to a sixteenth. Dots, on the other hand, extend a note by a particular duration that cannot be altered. Rests can be dotted, but they cannot be tied. Don’t ask why. It’s just the way things are!

It is also possible to tie more than two notes together. When this is the case, all the symbols following the first note of the tie continue to extend its duration. For example, a quarter tied to a quarter tied to an eighth has the value of two and one-half counts. Tie three quarter notes together, and you have the value of three full counts. Always keep in mind that a grouping of tied notes will only have one attack point, and therefore, only one stroke.

Remember when you practice this exercise, try to keep everything sounding relaxed and smooth. It’s not just enough to play the proper notes at the proper time. You always want the music you are reading to sound just as pure and natural as when you are improvising. I’m sure that you have heard a beginning reader trying to connect words into sentences. Each word is followed by a short pause and everything is stilted, dry, and without feeling. The natural rise and fall of the voice during speech is replaced by a voice that could be coming from a computer. Yet, when this same person speaks “off the top of his head”, everything sounds just fine. When you’re reading music, listen to yourself and be certain that you are playing with relaxation and expression.


Scroll to Top