Music TheoryNotationRhythm

Tied Notes In Music: What Are They And How Do They Work?

Written by Dan Farrant

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There are many different types of notes in music, each with their own time value that they last for. But what happens if you want a note to last longer than that? It’s for these moments that we need to use a tie.

In this post, I’ll cover how ties work and everything you need to know to be able to use them and know what to play if you see them in a piece of music.

What is a Tie in Music?

In music, a tie is a curved line between two notes that joins their time values together so that they are played as if they were one note.

For example, if you were to tie two minims (each worth two beats) you would play them as if they were a semibreve (worth four beats).

two minims tied are equal to a semibreve

Or two crotchets (each worth one beat) tied together have the same value as a minim (worth two beats)

two crotchets tied together are equal to a minim

Or two quavers (each worth half a beat) tied together have the same value as a crotchet (worth one beat).

two quavers tied together are equal to a crotchet

And so on…

They don’t have to be the same time value.

You could have a crotchet tied to a quaver, or a minim tied to a semiquaver.

You just add the time values of any tied notes together.

Why do we Need Tied Notes?

There are two reasons why tied notes are necessary in music theory.

You need to use a tied note when:

  • there would be no other way to notate a certain rhythm
  • you need a note to last over a bar line

Let’s take a look at some examples of these two situations.

To Notate Certain Rhythms

We have a lot of different ways of writing certain rhythms like:

  • dotted notes
  • triplets
  • duplets
  • double dotted notes

But, sometimes, the only way to notate a specific rhythm is by using a tied note.

For example, let’s say you wanted a note to last two and 1/4 beats – the length of a minim plus a semiquaver.

There is not a note that exists that can last two and 1/4 beats so you’d have to tie a minim to a semiquaver.

We then add the value of these two notes to achieve the rhythm that you want.

Notes Lasting Over Bar Lines

Another reason that we need tied notes is for times where we want a note to last for more than one bar or over a bar line.

If you’ve learnt about time signatures you’ll know that all the rhythms in a bar have to add up to the number of beats that the time signature specifies.

But, let’s say you had two bars of crotchets in 4/4 but you wanted the last crotchet of bar one to last two beats instead of one.

We can’t make it a minim as then the bar wouldn’t add up to four crotchet beats.

It’s situations like this that we use a tie to join the last crotchet of bar one to the first crotchet of bar two.

Or another example of using ties across bar lines would be when you wanted a note to last over multiple bars as shown in the example below.

How to Write a Tie

When it comes to writing ties there are a few rules to follow.

They must be written from the note head of the first note to the note head of a second note at the opposite end to the stem

For example, when the note’s stems are pointing up we draw the tie below the notes like this:

how to tied notes and how not to tie notes with their stems pointing up

And when the note’s stems are pointing down we draw the tie above the note so that it’s at the opposite end to the stem:

When Not to use a Tie

As useful as ties can be when notating rhythms you should always avoid using them if possible.

If there is an alternate way of writing a rhythm for example using by using a dotted note or just a longer note then you should opt for that.

Below are some examples of when not to use a tied note:

Ties vs Slurs: Whats the Difference?

The last important thing to mention about tied notes is that the notes must be the same pitch.

If the notes that are tied together are not the same pitch then this is not a tie but a slur.

A slur is an articulation symbol that tells the musician that the notes are to be played legato which means you play them without separation.

A totally different meaning to ties.

Just remember if you see two notes that are the same pitch with a line joining them then it’s a tie, but, if they’re different pitches then it’s a slur.

That’s it for Ties

I hope that’s helped make a bit more sense of how we can extend the duration of a note using ties.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.