A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Dot

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DOT (Fr. Point; Ger. Punkt; Ital. Punto). A point placed after a note to indicate that its length is to be increased one half; a semibreve with the addition of a dot being thus equal to three minims, a minim with a dot to three crotchets, and so on.

So far as regards rhythm, this is at the present time the only use of the dot, and it is necessitated by the fact that modern notation has no form of note equal to three of the next lower denomination, so that without the dot the only way of expressing notes of three-fold value would be by means of the bind, thus
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c2( c4) }
instead of
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c2. }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c4( c8) }
instead of
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c4. }
, which method would greatly add to the difficulty of reading. The sign itself is however derived from the ancient system of 'measured music' (musica mensuralis, about A. D. 1300), in which it exercised various functions, and where it is met with in four forms, called respectively 'point of perfection,' 'point of alteration,' 'point of division,' and 'point of addition.' The different uses of these points or dots was as follows.

The rhythm of the measured music was at first always triple; that is to say, the accent fell upon the first beat of every three (the division of music into bars is of later date, see Bar), and each note was of the value of three of the next lower denomination, the long Black mensural longa.svg being equal to three breves Black mensural brevis.svg and the breve to three semibreves Black mensural semibrevis.svg, and so on. But whenever a long note was followed or preceded by one of the next shorter kind, and the latter sung to an unaccented syllable, it became necessary to shorten the long note by one third, in order to preserve the triple character of the rhythm. Thus Ex. 1 would be sung as Ex. 2, and not as Ex. 3, notwithstanding the breve under other circumstances would be worth three semibreves:—

The note thus shortened was termed imperfect.

Cases often arose, however, in which the long note was required to be perfect, i.e. worth three beats, in spite of its being followed by a shorter note; in these cases a dot called the 'point of perfection,' and written either as a simple dot or a dot with a tail [symbol] (punctus caudatus), was introduced after the note, the function of which was to preserve the long note from being made imperfect by the next following short note, thus—

Another kind of dot, the 'point of alteration,' written like the foregoing, but placed either before the first or above the second of two similar notes, indicated that the second of the two was to be 'altered,' i.e. doubled in length, again for the sake of preserving the triple rhythin; for example—

In the absence of the dot in the above example, there would be a doubt as to whether the two breves ought not to be rendered imperfect by means of their respective semibreves, as in Ex. 1. Like the point of perfection therefore this dot preserves the first note from imperfection; but owing to the fact that it is followed by two short notes (instead of three as in Ex. 4), it also indicates the 'alteration' or doubling of the second of the two.

The third kind of dot, the 'point of division,' answers to the modern bar, but instead of being used at regular intervals throughout the composition, it was only employed in cases of doubt; for example, it would be properly introduced after the second note of Ex. 1, to divide the passage into two measures of three beats each, and to show that the two breves were to be made imperfect by means of the two semibreves, which latter would become joined to them as third and first beats respectively, thus—

Without the point of division the example might be mistaken for the 'alteration ' shown in Ex. 5.

The last of the four kinds of dots mentioned above, the 'point of addition,' was identical with our modern dot, inasmuch as it added one half to the value of the note after which it was placed. It is of somewhat later date than the others (about A. D. 1400), and belongs to the introduction of the so-called tempus imperfectum, in which the rhythm was duple instead of triple. It was applied to a note which by its position would be imperfect, and by adding one half to its value rendered it perfect, thus exercising a power similar to that of the 'point of perfection.'

[App. p.618 "Handel and Bach, and other composers of the early part of the 18th century, were accustomed to use a convention which often misleads modern students. In 6-8 or 12-8 time, where groups of dotted quavers followed by semiquavers occur in combination with triplets, they are to be regarded as equivalent to crotchets and quavers. Thus the passage

is played

not with the semiquaver sounded after the third note of the triplet, as it would be if the phrase occurred in more modern music."]

In modern music the dot is frequently met with doubled; the effect of a double dot is to lengthen the note by three-fourths, a minim with double dot
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c2.. }
being equal to seven quavers, a doubly dotted crotchet
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \stopStaff \stemDown c4.. }
to seven semiquavers, and so on. The double dot was the invention of Leopold Mozart, who introduced it with the view of regulating the rhythm of certain adagio movements, in which it was at that time customary to prolong a dotted note slightly, for the sake of effect. Leopold Mozart disapproved of the vagueness of this method, and therefore wrote in his 'Violinschule' (2nd edition, Augsburg, 1769), 'It would be well if this prolongation of the dot were to be made very definite and exact; I for my part have often made it so, and have expressed my intention by means of two dots, with a proportional shortening of the next following note.' His son, Wolfgang Mozart, not only made frequent use of the double dot invented by his father, but in at least one instance, namely at the beginning of the symphony in D written for Hafner, employed a triple dot, adding seven eighths to the value of the note which preceded it. The triple dot is also employed by Mendelssohn in the Overture to Camacho's wedding, bar 2, but has never come into general use.

Dots following rests lengthen them to the same extent as when applied to notes.

In old music a dot was sometimes placed at the beginning of a bar, having reference to the last note of the preceding bar (Ex. 7); this method of writing was not convenient, as the dot might easily escape notice, and it is now superseded by the use of the bind in similar cases (Ex. 8).

{ \time 4/4 \tempo "8." \relative g' { g2 c ~ c4 b d f ~ f8 e g e c2 \bar "||" } }

When a passage consists of alternate dotted notes and short notes, and is marked staccato, the dot is treated as a rest, and the longer notes are thus made less staccato than the shorter ones. Thus Ex. 9 (from the third movement of Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 22) should be played as in Ex. 10, and not as in Ex. 11.

{ \time 3/4 \key bes \major \tempo "9." \relative b' { bes8.-. a16-. bes8.-. c16-. d8.-. e16-. | e4( f8) \bar "||" } }
{ \time 3/4 \key bes \major \tempo "10." \relative b' { bes8[ r16 a-.] bes8[ r16 c-.] d8[ r16 e-.] \bar "||" } }
{ \time 3/4 \key bes \major \tempo "11." \relative b' { bes16-.[ r r a-.] bes-.[ r r c-.] d-.[ r r e-.] \bar "||" } }

In all other cases the value of the dotted note should be scrupulously observed, except in the opinion of some teachers—in the case of a dotted note followed by a group of short notes in moderate tempo; here it is sometimes considered allowable to increase the length of the dotted note and to shorten the others in proportion, for the sake of effect. (See Koch, 'Musikalisches Lexicon,' art. Punkt; Lichtenthal, 'Dizionario della Musica,'art. Punto.) Thus Ex. 12 would be rendered as in Ex. 13.

{ \time 2/4 \tempo "12." \relative c'' { c8.^"Andante" d32 e f8. \times 2/3 { f32 e d } | g4 \bar "||" } }
{ \time 2/4 \tempo "13." \relative c'' { c8..[ d64 e] f8 ~ f16. \times 2/3 { f64 e d } | g4 \bar "||" } }

In view however of the fact that there are a variety of means such as double dots, binds, etc. by which a composer can express with perfect accuracy the rhythmic proportions which he requires, it certainly seems advisable to employ the utmost caution in making use of such licences as the foregoing, and in particular never to introduce them into movements the rhythmical character of which is dependent on such progressions of dotted notes as the above example, such for instance as the 14th of Beethoven's 33 Variations, Op. 120, or the coda of the Fantasia, Op. 77.

2. Besides the employment of the dot as a sign of augmentation of value, it is used to indicate staccato, being placed above or below the note, and written as a round dot if the staccato is not intended to be very marked, and as a pointed dash if the notes are to be extremely short. [Dash.] As an extension of this practice dots are used to denote the repetition of a single note; and they are also placed before or after a double bar as a sign of the repetition of a passage or section. In old music for the clavecin they are used as an indication of the Bebung. [Abbreviations; Bebung.]

[ F. T. ]