My piano teacher is explaining how to count dotted eight notes followed by a 16th note.

He says to count like this: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & (it is in 4/4 time).

Since the dotted eight note is 3/4 of a beat, he tells me that the dotted eight will take up part of the & when counting, but not all of it. Then, the 16th will take up the rest.

I don't fully understand how to properly time the dotted eight note like that, without splitting up the counting even more.

Can someone explain what he means and where the notes line up when I count like that?

  • 1
    How is the dotted 8th note 3/4th of a beat? Can you give a picture of the sheet where this happens - i.e. dotted 8th, followed by dotted 16th?
    – Subir Nag
    Jul 21, 2018 at 2:44
  • Sometimes you get to the point where you have to give up trying to count it, and just play as fast as you can.
    – Simon B
    Jul 21, 2018 at 21:08
  • Sorry to say, but your teacher isn't explaining as well as he should. And needs to be told. Counting in 8 for 16th notes is folly - especially to explain to a beginner.
    – Tim
    Jan 17, 2021 at 18:33
  • @Tim Yep, 2.5 years later and I still don't fully understand how to time it using this method. I've just switched to the traditional "1 e & a" counting scheme. Jan 17, 2021 at 19:17
  • Take it to its lowest common demoninator. The smallest possible bit. Then count in those bits. It's simple.
    – Tim
    Jan 17, 2021 at 19:54

3 Answers 3


I'm not really sure there is a way to count this in the way that you're proposing.

A 16th note lasts precisely half as long as an 8th note. This means that the 16th note that follows the dotted eighth will begin precisely halfway between "&" and "2."

As such, the most precise way to place that 16th note correctly is to subdivide all 16th notes. By subdividing "1 e & a," we can correctly play the dotted-eight/sixteenth rhythm of "1 e & a."

Without this subdivision, your placement of the 16th note as "tak[ing] up part of the &...but not all of it" runs the risk of being wildly inaccurate.

Unless I'm misunderstanding you, I'm afraid that the answer to your question—"how to properly time the dotted eight note like that, without splitting up the counting even more"—is: You can't. It's a bit like asking how to cut strips of paper into 6-inch segments without ever using a ruler. You need some sort of reference, and subdividing is just the musical way of marking every inch until you get the length you're looking for.

  • Every inch, and segment of an inch.
    – Heather S.
    Jul 22, 2018 at 0:21

In 4/4 time, the usual way to count is 1, 2, 3, 4. That can then be sub-divided with &. 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.

Then, as Richard states, 1e&a etc.

Another way is to sub-divide the 1 & 2 & into 1 2 3 4, so now the whole bar goes 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 &. There's your 16 counts. Each quaver (1/8th note) is worth a count +&, and each semiquaver (1/16th note) worth either a number or an &. And those dotted 1/8th notes are worth '1 & 2', putting the 16th on '&' of 2.

I used to write out awkward bars (still sometimes have to!) separately, and number each dot. That way, I could see and count exactly where each dot needed to be. Then, slowly, tap the rhythm, not play the notes, until it all fitted, sometimes with a metronome clicking 16 times per bar, slowly again. Gradually speed up, add the right notes, away we go!

So, no; best way is to sub-divide. It's just how you decide to sub-divide.


Reverse-engineer it. Rather than working outward from the notation, work inward from a known example. Think of a tune that uses dotted rhythms and relate that back to the notation.

You'll actually find more real-life examples of swung or triplet 8s than of dotted 8 - 16. Take one as a starting point, - maybe 'Indicate precisely what you mean to say' from the Beatles song 'When I'm 64'- then make the rhythm 'tighter'.

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