Ever start writing down a piece of music and get to a point when you can’t figure out if you should use a dotted note or a tie? Even though we learn about these notation devices early on in our music education, deciding which one to use can be trickier than it seems… especially when the music we are writing becomes more layered and rhythmically advanced.
Rule of thumb: Notate in a way that the rhythm is clear and easy to read.
Unfortunately, doing so can be easier said than done. Depending on the meter and the beat in which the note lands on, different ways of notating can be called for… and sometimes there is more than one right answer.
Examples 1 & 2: The same melody written two different ways. (Notated for guitar + TAB) Both are correct. Example 1 looks cleaner, and example 2 shows the rhythm more clearly during beat 3 (you can visually see beats 3 & 4). The melody is simple enough to be read either way.
Example 3: Notice that adding a bass line makes the dotted rhythm a little harder to read. The dotted quarter note is kind of just floating there on its own between beats 3 and 4. It’s still not wrong to notate it like this, but now that there is a second voice… the reader might get thrown off at first.
Example 4: Now take a look at the same excerpt with the & of 3 tied to the 4th beat. The rhythm is now clearer… therefore, a better choice for noting these measures.
There are countless different combinations of notes, rhythms, and meters, so to really discuss this topic in detail would require writing a book instead of a short blog. Though, if you keep the rule of thumb in mind, it will probably get you out of most of your notating tough spots regarding dots and ties.