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The Music Schop is a resource for worship musicians and pastors. Song analysis of popular worship songs, theory lessons, reviews of worship resources, and tips and tricks for drummers, keyboard players, guitar players, bass players – the entire band. Written by Chris Schopmeyer.

Theory Thursday: Part Six, The Dot and The Tie

If you hang around modern worship bands long at all, chances are you'll hear of the dotted eighth note – most famous as a delay effect pattern. I intend to write a post one day soon on the beloved dotted eighth note, but first, a more foundational question: 

What is a dotted note? 

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The Dotted Note

So far in the Theory Thursday series, we have defined the bar, time signatures, and individual note values. Note values fall in divisibles of two: 

  • A whole note is held four beats.
  • A half note is held two beats. 
  • A quarter note is held one beat.
  • But what if I want the note held for three beats?

When a note has a dot you take half the note's value and add it on.

Dotted Half Note

Take simple half notes.

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These notes fall nicely on beat one and beat three. Add a dot to the first note and it becomes three beats long instead of two. The notes now fall on beat one and beat four. 

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Dotted Quarter Note

The dotted quarter takes a note that gets one beat and adds half that value. Now that dotted quarter will get one and a half beats (or three eighth notes). 

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Dotted Eighth Note

The dotted eighth note is the length of one and a half eighth notes, or three sixteenths.

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Ties

Ties are similar to dots in that it extends the length of a note. Where a dot extends the note by half of the note's value, a tie will extend the note by the length of next note. 

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In the simple example above, you see how the fourth note is tied over to the first note of the next bar. A half note would not work in that case because you can only have four beats in a 4/4 bar. Ultimately this is done because it is easier to read. 

More On Ties and The Dotted Eighth Note

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In the dotted eighth note example above I do not use ties. This is incorrect. Why? Because writing as I did above provides no sense of where the beats are falling. 

This is correct.

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The above example is the same rhythm, except with this notation you actually get a sense of how this syncopated pattern is playing against beats one, two, three and four. Listen to the example one more time. 

Conclusion

I've worked with guitar players over the years that use delay effects, but don't know the difference between dotted eighth and eighth, except that maybe one sounds cooler than the other. It is important to know how these rhythms play out and function over time so things groove properly and so you can communicate with others. 

I plan to write on the topics of rhythm and time more in the future. The last three posts will give us a foundation to build from.