What You Should Know
  1. How dotted and tied notes work
What You Will Learn
  1. How to count eighth notes and rests
  2. How dotted quarter notes work
  3. How eighth notes subdivide the beat in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4

Counting Eighth Notes and Rests

Eighth Notes

An eighth note is indicated by a filled-in notehead with a stem. It also includes a beam or flag at the end of the stem as shown below:

8th note with beam and flag

Subdividing with Eighth Notes

The eighth note is equal to half a beat in 4/4 time. This means that there are two eighth notes in one quarter note. This applies to other simple time signatures, such as 2/4 and 3/4, that have the quarter note as the beat. Remember that a time signature is simple if each beat is subdivided into two parts. For 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, the eighth note is that subdivision. Below is a example quarter notes being subdivided:

Quarter notes subdivided into 8th notes

Flags and Beams

Whether a beam or flag is used depends on several factors, including where the eighth notes occur, who is writing the music, and how many eighth notes are present. Below are a couple of guidelines for using beams and flags:

Beaming and flags used with 8th notes

How to Count Eighth Notes

Eighth notes can be counted by adding 'and' in between the numbers you already use to count each beat. For example, eighth notes in 4/4 time would be counted 'one and two and three and four and'. A plus sign (+) is used in place of the word 'and' in the examples. This is done to reduce clutter in the musical examples.

Eighth Notes in 2/4

Counting 8th notes in 2/4

Eighth Notes in 3/4

Counting 8th notes in 3/4

Eighth Notes in 4/4

Counting 8th notes in 4/4

Eighth Rests

An eighth rest is equal to an eighth note. The eighth rest is indicated by the following symbol:

Eighth rest

As with other rests, the eighth rest should be counted even though nothing is played. Below is an example of counting in a passage with eighth rests (note that '+' is used as a substitute for the word 'and' to reduce clutter in the music):

Counting music with 8th rests

Dotted Quarter Notes

A dotted quarter note is equal to one and a half beats (or three eighth notes) in 4/4 time. Below is a dotted quarter note:

Dotted quarter note


A dot adds half the value of the note that precedes the dot.

Counting Dotted Quarter Notes

Counting dotted quarter notes requires keeping track of the eighth note pulse for at least some beats due to the half beat in the dotted quarter.

Counting All Eighth Notes

One approach to counting dotted quarter notes is to count all of the eighth notes as shown below:

Counting all 8th notes

Counting the Smallest Subdivision

You can also count just the smallest subdivision for each beat. This means that for any quarter, half, or whole notes, you would count just the beat and not the 'and' of the beat. Eighth notes would be counted for any dotted quarter notes or eighth notes. This is shown below:

Counting some 8th notes

As shown above, it isn't necessary to always count the smallest subdivision if the rhythms are mixed. For example, if the eighth note is the smallest note value, but there are a lot of quarter notes and half notes, count the eighth notes when they occur, but just keep track of each beat anywhere else.

Dotted quarter rests are also possible, although they occur less frequently in simple time signatures than in compound time signatures.