Sensory Spotlight: Dotted Quarter Rhythms

I’m excited to introduce a new series of posts coming to the Pianimation blog this fall and winter!  Sensory Spotlight articles will highlight creative, hands-on ways to teach musical concepts to active learners, using a variety of fun props, teaching aids and movements.   I’ve been busy capturing snapshots and video of some of my students in action this fall, and am looking forward to giving all of you a peek inside our studio!

To kick off this new series, I’d like to answer a question sent to me by a reader a few weeks ago:

I would really like to know how you teach dotted quarter notes. Any suggestions? 

This question seems particularly appropriate at this time of year, as many of our young students will be encountering dotted rhythms in familiar Christmas tunes (Silent Night just doesn’t sound right if you try to play it with straight quarters!!!).  

My favorite tool for introducing note durations is a set of Beat Boards I made several years ago:

Students diagram rhythms on the boards using Silly Putty (I have yet to meet student who doesn’t jump at the chance to play with Silly Putty!!), then tap and slide their fingers across the beats moving from left to right to physically feel durations.   The board in the picture has 12 “heartbeats” stenciled on a long strip of craft wood.  If you don’t want to go to the trouble of painting your own boards, you can download a template here that can be printed on heavy cardstock, cut and laminated.   

To introduce dotted quarter rhythms, we start by diagramming a simple measure of quarters and paired eighth notes using a Beat Board and Clothesline Rhythm Cards.  Students should already be familiar with this pattern:

The student and I count the rhythm out loud together while he or she taps on each of the Silly Putty “notes,” moving from left to right.   I’ll often tap the rhythm on a drum as the student taps the putty, adding aural reinforcement.

Next, we use an extra piece of Silly Putty to tie the quarter note card to the eighth note card, and adjust the putty on the board to match:

We count this tied rhythm together several times.  The student should slide his or her finger steadily across the length of the first putty note, experiencing how the new tied duration feels.   Once the student can successfully tap on the beat board, we switch places: he or she now taps the rhythm on the drum while watching me move my finger across the beat board.  

Next, I introduce new rhythm cards.   We notice that the dotted quarter note card is the same length as the two tied notes:

I ask the student to tap the rhythm a few more times on the beat board with both sets of rhythm cards present, then remove the tied cards, leaving the dotted quarter and eighth in their place:

After the student can successfully count and tap the rhythm on the Silly Putty, I ask the them to tap the rhythm directly on the rhythm cards.   I point out that we can still see the pair of eighth notes in this rhythm – one is just disguised as a dot that’s “stuck” to the quarter note:

When the student taps on the rhythm cards, they tap the quarter note as they count beat 1, slide their finger to the dot on “2” and then tap the single eighth on “+”.   

To complete the activity, we move to a new repertoire or sight-reading piece that includes dotted quarter rhythms, so the student can apply what they’ve just learned at the piano.   Before playing, the student counts and taps through any phrases with dotted quarter rhythms in their book, pointing to each note and counting as they did with the rhythm cards a moment before.   

Note: In the initial introduction of dotted quarter notes, I don’t typically include any explanation of a dotted quarter as a “beat and a half.” The idea of lengthening a note by half its value requires a level of abstract thinking that’s difficult for many elementary students.  Younger students are easily able to grasp the idea of a quarter tied to an eighth, since those are concepts they have already experienced.  Young students are also able to relate to the visual representation of a “hidden” pair of eighth notes, disguised as a dot followed by a single eighth.  

The Clothesline Rhythm Cards shown in the pictures above are available for free download.   The dotted quarter and single eighth note cards are a recent addition to the set, so if you’ve used the cards in the past, you’ll want to download a new copy of the file that includes these.

Need more ideas and resources for teaching and reinforcing dotted quarter rhythms?  Check out these posts and resources:

LEGO Rhythms (another great rhythm activity for tactile learners)

Rhythm Challenge Sets (printable rhythm drills)

Is there a musical concept you’d like to see featured in a Sensory Spotlight post?  Leave a comment or email me at [email protected]  



Sensory Spotlight: Dotted Quarter Rhythms — 4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I am really excited to start it! I made the mistake of trying to tell the student first off of the one and a half counts. I have a picture that I wanted to show you of the stuff that I came up with. It is pretty similar. But I can’t wait to incorporate the beat boards and silly putty!!

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