What is a Dotted Note in Music?

Sometimes when you’re writing music, you want the note to last a little bit longer than its normal time value.

There are a few different ways to stretch out the length of a note. You might tie two notes together, or you could use a fermata. But one of the best ways to make a music note longer is by turning it into a dotted note.

In this post, we’ll go over the definition of a dotted note. We’ll also talk about how it works in music, and where to place it on the staff. Let’s start by answering the question, “what is a dotted note?”

Dotted Note Definition

A dotted note is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a music note with a little dot next to the note head.

In sheet music, it looks like this:

dotted quarter note (crochet note), image by Wikimedia Commons

This is a dotted quarter note, or a dotted crochet note.

If you’re not sure what a quarter note is, check out this article about the different types of music notes. Types of Music Notes.

The dot adds half of the note’s value, so the note lasts one and a half times longer than normal.

Let’s see how this works by looking at some examples of dotted notes in music.

Types of Dotted Notes

There are lots of different kinds of dotted notes, because you can add a dot to any music note. You can even have dotted rests in music!

Any time a note has a dot on its right side, it lasts one and a half times longer.

Dotted Whole Notes

For example, here’s a dotted whole note (semibreve).

dotted semibreve whole note (image by Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s say that our music is in a basic 4/4 time signature. That means that a regular whole note (with no dot) is worth 4 beats.

Now, we add the dot. The dot is worth half of the original note’s length.

So in this case, the dot is worth 2 beats, because half of 4 is 2.

A dotted whole note, then, is worth 6 beats. (4 for the original note, and 2 for the dot.)

Basically, it’s the same length as if you added a whole note and a half note together.

Dotted Half Notes

To start with, a half note (minim) has two beats.

When we make it into a dotted half note, we extend it by half its original length.

Half of 2 is 1, so the dot is worth 1 beat.

And then, of course, 2 plus 1 is 3.

So a dotted half note (or a dotted minim) would be worth 3 points.

dotted half note minim equals one half note and one quarter note (image from Wikimedia commons)

Dotted Quarter Notes

A quarter note, also called a crochet, has a value of one beat.

When we add a dot to it, we extend the note by half its value.

To figure out the length of a dotted quarter note, we add 1 (the quarter note) + 1/2 (the dot). That gives us a total of 1 1/2 (1.5) beats.

It’s like adding a quarter note and an eighth note together:

dotted quarter note equals quarter note plus eighth note (image from HelloMusicTheory)

Dotted Eighth Notes

How long is an eighth note?

An eighth note (or a quaver note, if you prefer the European terminology) is worth 1/2 of a beat. Two eighth notes equal one quarter note.

In the case of a dotted eighth note, you would first figure out half of the note’s original value. So the dot is worth 1/4 of a beat.

Then, you add the note’s value to the dot’s value. 1/2 plus 1/4 equals 3/4.

A dotted eighth note is worth 3/4 of a beat.

dotted quaver eighth note (image by Wikimedia Commons)

Dotted Sixteenth Notes

As you might have noticed, as we go down the list of music notes, each one is half as long as the one before it.

A whole note is four beats, and a half note is two beats. A quarter note is one beat, and an eighth note is 1/2 a beat.

Of course, the next note in line is a sixteenth note. Sixteenth notes are worth 1/4 of a beat.

If you add a dot to a sixteenth note, the dot adds half of the note’s value, which is 1/8.

1/4 + 1/8 = 3/8, so the dotted sixteenth note is worth 3/8 of a beat.

Dotted sixteenth notes aren’t super common, but you might see them in some classical music, or in jazz music. It’s good to know how they work anyway, in case you see one in your music.

dotted sixteenth note (image from Wikimedia commons)

Now that we’ve covered the different types of dotted notes, there are a few rules that you should know.

How to Write Dotted Notes

First of all, when you’re writing a dotted note, never put the dot under or over the note. That’s a staccato marking, which is different.

If the dot is under the note, or over the note, it’s staccato. If the dot is on the right side of the note, it’s a dotted note.

Here’s a picture to help illustrate what I mean:

Notice how the first two eighth notes have dots underneath the notes. This means they are staccato. The quarter rest has a dot on its right side, so it’s a dotted rest.

Then, the single eighth note is a dotted note, because the dot is on the right side. And after the rest, the last note has a dot right above it, so this note is staccato.

Always make sure that you put the dot on the right side of the note. (Unless you’re writing a staccato note, obviously.)

Where Does the Dot Fit on the Stave?

When you draw notes on the music stave, there are a couple different places where you could put the dot.

If the note is on a line, you put the dot in the space right above the line, like this:

grouped eighth and sixteenth notes with dotted note (image by Wikimedia commons)

This is just so the dot is easy to see and doesn’t blend in with the line.

Don’t put the dot in the space below the line. It always goes in the space directly above the note line.

If the note is sitting in a space on the music stave, it’s very simple. Just put the dot in the same space as the note.

Dotted Notes and Bar Lines

Unlike tied notes, dotted notes cannot cross over bar lines.

If you have 4 beats in one bar, you can’t put a dotted whole note there. A dotted whole note is 6 beats long, and it won’t fit if you only have room for 4 beats.

You have to put a whole note in the first bar. Then you tie it to a half note in the next bar, like this:

whole note tied to a half note

That way, you don’t have a dotted note crossing the bar line, and the note still sounds the same.

If you want to learn more about tied notes and dotted notes, here’s a good link to learn more: https://www.teoria.com/en/tutorials/reading/04-dot.php

What Does It Mean if a Note has Two Dots?

In your sheet music, you might see a note with two dots next to it, like this:

double dotted crochet note

This is called a double dotted note.

It’s not very common in music, but you might see it in music theory exams.

Remember, each dot is worth half of the original note’s value. With our double dotted quarter note, each dot is worth 1/2 a beat.

When we add the two notes together, 1/2 + 1/2 = 1. Then we add that to the note, and 1 + 1 = 2.

Basically, if you see two dots, it doubles the value of the original note. A double dotted quarter note is 2 beats, a double dotted half note is 4 beats, and so on.

Again, it’s not very common. Most composers would rather just write two tied notes. But if you see a note with two dots, you just double the note’s value.

Summarizing Dotted Notes

I hope this post helps you learn more about dotted notes in music.

Dotted notes are an important part of music theory, and you’ll see lots of them in your music.

If you have any questions about music theory, let me know in the comments!

Jessica Roberts
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