I'm looking for a way to show the dotted eighth - sixteenth rhythm using a system of rhythmic symbols.

In standard notation, the rhythm looks like this:

tum ka

In French, it is easy to teach this rhythm because we can say "saut-te" and then the name of whichever note follows, such as "noire".

In English, use the "1e&a" method of counting rhythms, and I find that the way this rhythm is represented using this system is ambiguous. Apparently in this system there is no difference between counting four sixteenths or counting a dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth.

For instance, if we count four sixteenth notes, we use all the syllables: 4 sixteenths

But now when we count the dotted eighth sixteenth rhythm, which only has two notes, we still apparently have to count all the syllables, making it identical to the four note example above: enter image description here

So in desperation, I turned to the Orff system. This method of rhythmic solfege uses words to represent rhythms, such as "raspberry" to represent triplets, or "hippopotamus" for quintuplets. But still I can't find any examples of words to use with the dotted eighth-sixteenth-quarter rhythm.

What's in your experience the best and least ambiguous way using rhythmic syllables to count or sound out this rhythm?

  • Apple for triplets? What? Good question though.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 20:02
  • Ok maybe not. I put a different fruit :)
    – brettv
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 1:56
  • I use the Kodály method, which is international. Its only problem is that it doesn't really account for tuplets.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:34

4 Answers 4


I know many people in the "English" system (not just in England, of course) who would say that the "e" and "+" should be silent, as if represented by rests. This method only emphasizes the attacks of notes, leaving duration ambiguous.

The method you describe focuses on the binary state of "sound is present" or "silence", and it represents this unambiguously. However, it of course does leave the attacks of notes ambiguous: two quarter notes would be the exact same as one half note.

The middleground I've seen is the system you mention, where either sound is played or not, but any syllables that are part of the same note would be "slurred" when spoken, so two quarter notes would be "one, two" and a half note would be "one two" (which is hard to imagine just looking at the words, I know). A better way to think about it is to emphasize every new note; "one, two, three, (four)" would be different from "one, two, three, (four)": the former being a dotted half note and a quarter rest, the latter being three quarter notes and a quarter rest.

The reason this isn't a huge deal threatening to shake the foundations of music theory is because as long as your system works for you and you understand it, you can conceptualise rhythms pretty easily and communicate them with minimal confusion. All the ways of conveying rhythm (I myself got taught a method using "ta, ti ti, tika tika" for uarters, eighths, and sixteenthsths) are easily understandable to experienced musicians who might not have ever trained in using them before.

  • 2
    The "ta, ti ti, ti-ka ti-ka" method is called the "Kodály method". Just in case you forgot ;)
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:35

This is a fairly old thread by now, but it makes perfect sense to say "one...a" while holding the "one" as if saying "ooooooone."


Personally I use a tatatata system where the example in question would be Taaa-ta as seen on the following image: enter image description here


From the drumset, please notice that relying on lengths of syllables is ... a quite unreliable way to produce perfect timing. It may even hide the rhythmic structure and feel.

I'd like to suggest two options to you.


It's from India, uses only syllables of same duration, is and was applied for a very long time by musicians (all kinds of percussion), dancers (feet) and ... audience (hands).

Example for your example, following the convention, that the first syllable is emphasized (I'll capitalize to emphasize this emphasis)

||: Ta - ki - te  Ta :||

(E.g. clap or play the note only at the emphasis and be silent else, i.e. play a precise rest.)

Now this is a very simple rhythmic example. You'll find any complexity in rhythmic performance when you look for videos. The type of syllables used vary, and oftentimes mimicks the sound of the instrument used. And those musicians, dancers, audience can recall long and complex rhythm chains obviously precisely and with ease.

Drummers stick control

Envision the marching drummer, with his/her snare at the hip and a stick in each hand. A very natural motion for the sticks is alternating left and right, like so (which could reflect the 4 sixteenth notes of a quarter) :

R L R L 

Try it by slapping lightly on your thighs and notice, how regular and precise timing can be, as the frequencies of left and right hand are (and they are out-of phase as needed, or call it "delayed"). // You can also assign 1e+a or Ta-ki-te Ta (or better Ta-ka-de-mi) to it; moving and counting in parallel doesn't hurt.

Now, once this "machine" runs fine, let's introduce some asymmetry by introducing emphasis, i.e. harder and lighter strokes or claps to your thighs, like so:

||: R l r L :||    (where "l" is a small caps L ...)

There you go. Following this approach you'll always be on-time, very close to a rhythm "machine".

The advantage here is that you can do these phantom-strokes, where you either just slap your thigh lightly, or hit into the air at a drum: your timing will just be alright.

Later you can do similar things e.g. on a piano keyboard. But a phantom-hit of a key is may be no good idea. Instead you'll have a better recognition and control about syncroneous movement of fingers, which includes precise delays (or phase shifts amongst keys, referenced to the metronome).

Referring to the 3 bars from Noah Miller


 RLRL rlrl RlRL rlrl | RlrL rlrl RLrL rlrl | rLRL rlrl RLRl rlrl ||

(Which are just 7 out of the 16 possible combinations of note and rest. Practice all 16, and you are prepared for any 4/4 rhythm.)

The most important take-away here is to hear, to know, how the various pattern do sound (or have to sound thythmically).

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