Dot Spots

Add improvised pizzazz to quarter note (crotchet) rhythms found in many tunes by identifying “dot spots.” These are places to substitute dotted rhythms in place of quarter notes.


Watch an edited livestream archive on this same topic.

London Bridge

This is my go-to tune for getting the sound of dot spots in my head. The dotted quarter notes on beat 1 of measures 1 and 5 are more interesting than if they had been all quarter notes.


You can recreate the sound of London Bridge in any quarter note based-tune.

For example, Yankee Doodle could be converted from this…

For example,  Yankee Doodle  could be transformed from this…

to this:


Basic + basic = complex

Pretty simple idea, right? Perhaps you are even rolling your eyes thinking, "Oh, this is so juvenile." Keep in mind that most creative concepts are basic unto themselves. The trick is to combine them with others to make make complex, interesting performances. That's why you want to keeping adding creative concepts like this to your "bag."

Notice that Beethoven himself wrote a dotted rhythm in measure 4 that is, unfortunately, often simplified in method books even though beginning students can easily reproduce this rhythm.


Here's another example. With apologies to Beethoven (who in the name of creativity, probably wouldn’t mind), perhaps Ode to Joy could be re-imagined with dot spots:


It’s your choice

Note that dot spots aren't just for nursery rhymes and beginner tunes. Many pop and jazz tunes (I can't show for copyright reasons) can be enhanced with dot spots. Here a few that come to mind:

  • All the Things You Are

  • Autumn Leaves

  • Here's that Rainy Day

  • How High the Moon

  • My Ship

  • Pennies from Heaven

Try it out on a couple of quarter note tunes to decide where it does or doesn't work. If you dislike the sound of an improvised dot spot, try it in another measure (or go back to playing the rhythms on the page with a new understanding of why they were written that way).

Improvising is all about making choices. The creative experimentation you do today leads to a growing list of discoveries that combine to make more expressive performances down the road. 

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey.


(An earlier version of this article first appeared in Clavier Companion magazine.)

Learn more about keyboard creativity:

Online group jazz piano classes
Keyboard improvisation method books