5 Perfect Songs With Dotted Quarter Notes

songs with dotted quarter notes

Are you looking for great songs to reinforce dotted quarter notes? 

Do you want some more material to help teach this tricky rhythm?

Dotted quarter notes are a surprisingly controversial rhythm. 

Some methods teach them early in the sequence, and some wait until much later. 

Whatever way it’s done, all music teachers agree the best way to teach them is by connecting them to real music. 

This is why I decided to help you out with my favorite 5 songs with dotted quarter notes. 

Songs with dotted quarter notes are tricky because they stretch over the beat and also contain implied divisions of the beat. My picks for the 5 perfect songs include: 

  • Cockles And Muscles
  • Liza Jane
  • London Bridge
  • Al Citrón
  • The Bell Cow

Look ahead for the songs and activities (and a little music geek discussion). 

Note: This article focuses on the dotted quarter in duple. In triple, the dotted quarter just gets the beat. 

Dotted Quarter Notes Early Or Later?

You may be surprised to learn that dotted quarter notes are a hotly debated topic in the music education world. 

As typical as they are in “American” folk music (Anglo-American folk music), there are two schools of thought on when to teach how to read and perform the rhythm. 

Early Dotted Quarter Notes

Some music teachers get to dotted quarter notes by third grade or even as early as second grade. 

The idea here revolves around how common dotted quarter notes are. 

In music, specifically Anglo-American music, this rhythm is around a lot. 

Many songs taught in younger grades will use this rhythm. 

Logically, if the students sing the rhythm, they can read and perform it. 

When it’s taught in the younger grades, the emphasis is placed on stretching the rhythm out and trusting the background experience to give students the knowledge of performing it without going into too much detail on the counting. 

Since this pseudo-instinctive understanding based on experience with songs is a common and accepted teaching tool (we read to kids for this exact reason), dotted quarter notes may be taught in younger grades. 

Later Dotted Quarter Notes 

The argument for starting later revolves around what this rhythm involves. 

There are different dimensions of rhythms. 

First, we look at sound vs. no sound. This is like quarter note vs. quarter rest. 

Next, there are rhythms aligned with the beat and divisions of the beat. 

These would be quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and more. 

Then, there are notes stretching over beats but still align with the beat. 

These are half notes, dotted half notes, and whole notes. 

Now, we get to the dotted quarter note. 

This is a note that stretches beyond the beat and yet also uses beat division. 

For this reason, some music teachers hold off until fourth grade or fifth grade to teach this. 

The Answer?

I wish I could give you a definitive right answer, but it’s not so easy. 

Personally, I’d suggest looking at the songs you use containing the dotted quarter note. 

If you use a lot in the younger grades, go for it. 

If they’re mostly for older students, wait a bit. 

In general, this is sound advice. 

Teaching music should be centered around music, after all. 

Let your music material dictate what you teach conceptually, not the other way around. 

My songs usually use it in the later grades, so I wait, but this is simply how I do it. 

Speaking of rhythms, you may want to check out these 4 beat rhythm patterns to master.

5 Perfect Songs With Dotted Quarter Notes

In this section, we’ll look at my favorite 5 songs to use when teaching dotted quarter notes. 

For more dotted quarter note songs and teaching tricks, I recommend Conversational Solfege Level 2

I love the songs they use and how easy-to-apply the teaching tactics are. 

Cockles And Muscles


1. In Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty,

Twas there I first met with sweet Molly Malone.

She wheeled her wheelbarrow Through the streets broad and narrow, crying,

“Cockles and mussels alive, alive, oh!”

Alive, alive, oh, Alive, alive, oh,

Crying, “Cockles and mussels alive, alive, oh!”

2. She was a fishmonger and sure Twas no wonder

For so were her father and mother before,

They wheeled their wheelbarrows through the streets broad and narrow, crying,

“Cockles and mussels alive, alive, oh!”

Alive, alive, oh! Alive, alive, oh!

Crying, “Cockles and mussels alive, alive, oh!”

Notes: This song is Irish in nature with Dublin appearing in the lyrics being the Dublin city in Ireland.  

It’s also the unofficial anthem of Dublin itself. 

There’s not much to do movement-wise with the song, though it’s great for 3/4 meter. 

As with many Irish and Celtic tunes, we see the dotted quarter note both as a dotted quarter-eighth and the eighth-dotted quarter. 

I save this song usually for when the students are a little older and will appreciate the discussion into Irish culture as well as 3 meter and the dotted quarter rhythms. 

Liza Jane

Disclaimer: This song appears on some lists of questionable songs. The reason includes alternate lyrics, which may include inappropriate topics. It’s up to you whether or not you perform the song. Normally, I’d recommend staying away from questionable songs, but the original intent of the lyrics appear to be good, so I leave it up to you. 


I’ve got a gal in Baltimore, Lil Liza Jane. 

Street car runs right to my door, Lil Liza Jane. 

Oh, Eliza, Lil Liza Jane. 

Oh, Eliza, Lil Liza Jane. 


The students stand in two lines facing their partners. 

  • Right arm swing with partner for 8 beats. 
  • Left arm swing with partner for 8 beats. 
  • (With the rhythm) Stomp, clap, partner, clap, clap, partner, clap, partner.
  • Repeat the last step. 

Tip: The clapping parts line up with the words, “Oh, Eliza, Lil Liza Jane.”

London Bridge


London bridge is falling down. 

Falling down, falling down. 

London bridge is falling down, 

My fair lady. 

Take a key and lock her up. 

Lock her up, lock her up. 

Take a key and lock her up, 

My fair lady. 


Two students face each with their hands up and join as if making a bridge. 

The rest of the students are in a line and move through the bridge during the song. 

At the end of the first verse, the bridge falls down over one or two students. 

During the second verse, the bridge students gently shake the two they caught. 

The rest of the students make a shaking motion during this verse as well. 

The caught students replace one or more of the bridge students, and the game repeats until everyone has had a turn. 

Note: This is a song I teach in the youngest grades, but I bring it back when I teach dotted quarter notes.

Check out more music activities for kindergarten.

Al Citrón


Al citrón de un fandango sango, sango, 

Sabaré, sabaré de la randele con su triqui, triqui, tran. 


This is a stick passing game. 

The students start by sitting in a close circle with a single rhythm stick or bean bag in front of them. 

On the first beat of each measure, they pass to the right. 

On the second beat, they pick up the stick now in front of them. 

This is usually enough to keep them occupied for a while, but there’s more! 

On the words, triqui triqui tran, you hold onto the stick and bring it back to center once more before passing it on. 

To make it harder, start the song slow and speed up with each repetition. 

See how fast they can go! 

The Bell Cow



Oh, the bell cow catch her by the tail.

Oh, the bell cow milk in her in the pail. 

Oh, the bell cow catch her by the tail.

Oh, the bell cow milk in her in the pail. 

Verse 1: 

The milk ain’t whipped and the butter ain’t fat. 

The darned old cow ate my best hat. 

Verse 2: 

One of these days, when I learn how, 

I’m gonna milk that old bell cow. 

Verse 3: 

Partridge in the pea patch picking at the peas, 

Along comes the bell cow kicking up her heels.

Verse 4: 

Went down to the cornfield to pick a mess of beans

Along comes the bell cow a-pecking at the greens.


There are a ton more lyrics possible with this song. 

Find some at Songs2Quakers or make up your own with the students. 

Final Thoughts

It’s my sincere hope this list of songs with dotted quarter notes helps you in teaching this tricky concept. 

Whether you teach it in second grade or fifth grade, use the song material to drive your instruction. 

Music teaching starts from a place of music. 

Until next time, keep on singing! 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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