Playing the Piano: Adding Time to Musical Notes with Ties and Dots

8 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Reading Piano Music

In music, ties and dots are symbols that add more time or length to the notes you play on the piano. If a quarter or half note doesn’t quite cut it, the composer throws in some of these value-adding notations.

Linking notes using ties

Suppose you want to play a note that lasts longer than one measure or a note that lasts for two and a half beats. Music has a solution: a curvy little line called the tie.

The tie does just what it sounds like: It ties two notes of the same pitch together, causing one continuous-sounding note. For example, a whole note tied to a quarter note lasts for five beats. Likewise, a quarter note tied to an eighth note is held for one and a half beats.

Ties that bind notes of the same pitch.
Ties that bind notes of the same pitch.

Be careful not to mistake a tie for a slur. They look similar because they’re both curved lines, but a tie connects two notes of the same pitch from notehead to notehead. In contrast, a slur connects notes of different pitches.

Extending notes using dots

Another way to extend the length of a note, not to mention to make it look a little fancier, is through the use of a dot. A dot on any size note or rest makes that note or rest last 50 percent longer.

A quarter note lasts one beat, a half note lasts two, and a whole note lasts four. You can see that you’re in need of a note that lasts three beats. Probably the most common dotted note in music is the dotted half note, which gets a total of three beats:

The dotted half note.
The dotted half note.

This note gets a lot of use in 4/4 and in 3/4 time, where it takes up the entire measure.

Dots also get added to other notes:

  • Quarter note: The note lasts one and a half beats. Because of its length, the dotted quarter note is commonly paired with an eighth note in order to finish out the second beat.

  • Eighth note: The dotted eighth note equals one and a half eighth notes, or three sixteenth notes. A dotted eighth note is often paired with a sixteenth note to make a full quarter note

    A dotted eighth, a sixteenth, and their beams.
    A dotted eighth, a sixteenth, and their beams.
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The Essentials of Reading Piano Music

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