A Simple Guide to Ties in Music

We may have heard about ‘tied’ notes in music and wondered what this means.
Or we may have come across them in our pieces, and not known how to play them.

What Do Tied Notes Look Like?

A musical ‘tie’ is a little curved line joining two notes together. It usually joins the note-heads rather than the stems. Some people call them ‘umbrellas’ or ‘smiles’.

The notes always have the same note name and pitch. (You can’t tie together two notes an octave apart.)
And they are often on either side of a bar line, like this:

tied notes in music

A tie is a line connecting two of the same note, often across a bar line.

But Aren’t These Slurs?

Don’t get these confused with slurs. Slurs are hammer-ons and pull-offs. They may look the same on paper, but slurs (or ligados) are played differently.

  • A tie is always between two identical notes
  • A slur is always between two different notes
difference between a tie and slur in music

Ties connect two of the same pitch. Slurs connect two different pitches.

What Does a Tie Do in Music?

The curved line connects the two notes and turns them into a single long note. This long note is then equal in length to the two joined notes.

This means that you play the first, but don’t play the second. You just let it ring on for the correct length of the note.

ties create longer note values

Two quarters tied together equals two beats, which is the same as a half note.

Why Doesn’t the Composer Just Add the Two Notes Together?

The composer can’t add the two notes together to make one long note, because of the bar line. There would be too many beats in the bar.

How to Play Tied Notes

Clap it first

The easiest way to work out how to play a tie is to first clap the rhythm. We count each beat aloud, but only clap on the notes we actually play.

When we reach the ones that are tied together, we count them both out loud but don’t clap the second note (the ‘tied’ note).

how to count tied notes in music

Continue counting through the tie. You can say the held beat quietly to show it is tied.

Make the Tie Sound Joined

We can even change the way we count the tied note out loud. We can make our voices ‘join’ the tied beat to its neighbor.

‘One, two, three, fourrrr-one, two three, four.’

Write the Beats Over the Staff in Your Sheet Music

At first, it may be helpful to write the beat numbers over the staff. You can put brackets around the second (tied) beat if it makes it clear that it’s counted, but not played.

Ties in Musical Phrasing

As we advance, we can use ties to play with more expression.   The way we place the first note of the tied pair can tell the listener that the note will last longer.  Here’s a more advanced lesson on playing ties musically.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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