How To Read Music – Tied Notes

In this lesson you will learn about tied notes.

We have been discussing note values in 4/4 time. In 4/4 time a whole note gets 4 beats, a half note gets 2 beats, a quarter note gets 1 beat, an eighth note gets 1/2 beat, and a sixteenth note gets 1/4 beat. The people who write the music are composers or arrangers, and being creative types, they don’t want to be limited to the note values that I have listed. They sometimes want to use notes that are 3 beats or 8 beats or 7 beats. They even want to use notes that have durations of 1 and 1/2 beats. How do they do it? and how can a wedding band in Melbourne play it?


In this lesson you will learn one method that composers use to extend or lengthen the sounds represented by notes.

Suppose that I wanted you to sing a note and hold it for 3 beats in 4/4 time. A half note gets 2 beats and a quarter note gets 1 beat, so if I could add a quarter note to the half note then I would have a 3-beat note. This is done using the “tie.” The tie is a curved line that connects two notes of the same pitch. Two notes of the same pitch will be on the same line or space in the staff. When you see two notes that are “tied” then you are to add their values. Figure 1 shows examples of ties and slurs so that you can see the difference. Slurs are beyond the scope of this lesson.

Sometimes we need to hold a note for longer than a measure. For example, in 4/4 time a whole note gets 4 beats, but if we want to hold a note for 8 beats, we can tie two whole notes together. If we want to hold a note for 6 beats then we can tie a half note and a whole note. See figure 2 for examples of these two cases.

We can tie as many notes as we want. However, there is a practical, physical limitation: How long can you hold a note without taking a breath? In music written for vocal soloists or wind instruments (clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, etc.), arrangers and composers must consider the physical limits of the performers. In choral music notes may be sustained for longer durations because the singers can breathe at different times, a technique called “staggered” breathing.

Below are some demonstrations that allow you see and hear how tied notes are counted.

Fast Tube by Casper

This example shows whole notes. The notes in measures 3 and 4 are tied.

Fast Tube by Casper

This example plays a whole note and a half note, then plays a whole note tied to a half note.

Fast Tube by Casper

This example shows notes tied within a measure and three notes tied together. In the second measure a half note is tied to a quarter note, so you are to hold the sound for 3 beats. In measures 3 and 4 we have tied a whole note to a half note to a quarter note. This combination is held for a total of 7 beats.

Fast Tube by Casper

This example illustrates multiple ties. In the second measure we have a half note tied to a quarter note tied to an eighth note. This combination gets 3 and 1/2 beats. The combination in measures 3 and 4 gets 7 and 1/2 beats.

Now you see how to add notes together using ties. What questions do you have?

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