I am playing “Sonate Pathetique,” whose time signature is 4/4. I came across a bar with four notes that looked like half notes. I asked my friend, and he said it meant “the same as the previous four notes.” What is the name of this note?

Additionally, I now came across a bar with three of these notes and one quarter note. What do I do now?

Edit: Here's a photo of the part I'm stuck on: Image of my sheet

Edit 2:

Right, I know I must be causing everyone a massive headache right now (sorry...) Looking back, the photo I sent is definitely not what I encountered before. What I saw before was, indeed, a tremolo, and what I show here is just a very simple 3 half notes with a quarter note. I don't know why I also thought that was a tremolo. Sorry for the confusion.

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    For everyone's sake, please post a pic. of the first part of the question. Otherwise I'll vtc as question is rather unclear. – Tim Jun 19 at 10:28
  • A suggestion: when in doubt, try to find a recording and listen to how the measures in question are performed. – Carl Witthoft Jun 19 at 10:50
  • Could you poste also a picture of the other notes from which your friend says they are played in the same way as the previous bar? – Albrecht Hügli Jun 19 at 12:01
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    @Tim I was aiming that comment at the OP., Sorry, thought that was obvious. – Carl Witthoft Jun 19 at 16:31
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    Thank you. So now, what exactly is the question? – Tim Jun 19 at 17:48

Now the music's arrived, your friend isn't right concerning the 3rd bar in the pic. (which is all we have to go on). The notes may be the same but the way they're played isn't.

Notice the stems. Some up, some down. We have a lot of questions appertaining to this sort of writing, so this may well be a dupe.

Treat the l.h. as two separate parts, which would be easier played on two separate instruments. Here, the l.h. gets to play both. Unlike the previous bars, the notes are held loger, and effectively overlap. The pedal helps, but while the low G(?) is held, the higher G is played, and that is held while the low B is played, and that is held while the laast note in the bar is played. Very different from the previous bar!

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  • As I suggest in my answer, I think you have half the answer here. What you say is certainly correct for the passage shown in the photograph and described in the second paragraph of the question; but I suspect the friend was also correct in explaining the passage described in the OP’s first paragraph as tremolo, the OP is just mistaken in thinking that the two passages are the same notation. – PLL Jun 19 at 9:40
  • +1 even you don’t mention the tremolo as it isn’t posted in the question. So you edit maybe your friend isn’t right.? – Albrecht Hügli Jun 19 at 11:58
  • I think the friend may have been referring to the 4 quarter-note chords on the right hand in the previous measure being rhythmicly the same as the overlapping half-notes on the left hand in question. This would be correct, although not complete as it doesn't take the overlapping into account. But the notes should indeed be struck at the same rhythm but be held twice as long. – Darrel Hoffman Jun 19 at 15:28

Do you mean this? The first left hand bar is written out in full. The next bar is notated as a tremolo. Another way of writing the same thing. (It means 'play an 8th note tremolo', not 'repeat the previous bar'. The writer didn't HAVE to write it out in full the first time. And note that from bar 5 we DON'T repeat the previous bar.)

I can't see your second example in the score. Perhaps you could add a scan of it to your question?

enter image description here

(Later) OK, here's the illustration of the second part of the question, just added by the OP. Two bars of the LH octaves figure - which for some reason the composer (or editor) decided to notate in full this time not with the tremolo notation. Then something quite different. The half notes AREN'T connected by an 8th-note beam. This is simple 2-voice writing. Like in bar 7 of the first example, though rather more widely separated. (I'm surprised that a pianist capable of this piece hasn't encountered this sort of notation before!)

enter image description here

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  • Thanks! I don't have a scanner with me, so I added a photo of my sheet. – Queso Pez Jun 19 at 2:56
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    Can't see any trem. in the music. – Tim Jun 19 at 5:59
  • @Tim en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremolo#Notation Perhaps you're thinking of another kind of tremolo: the type a mandolinist plays. – Old Brixtonian Jun 19 at 10:11
  • @OldBrixtonian - yes, but neither your or Laurence's pic show dots joined like they are in OP's pic. That's clearly three part writing. The stems don't join and the notes aren't the same, as they would be in trem. Trem will have two notes which alternate. In OP's pic they keep changing, (3rd bar in). Sorry, can't see how either answer is correct. – Tim Jun 19 at 10:25
  • You all are right. When I’ve read the question without seeing the picture (and not checking the score) my first assumption was OP is confusing with this kind of tremolo notation. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 19 at 11:55

Like at bar 11 you mean? Your friend's right.

enter image description here

They're called tremolos.

You say,

I now came across a bar with three of these notes and one quarter note. What do I do now?

You tell us the bar number! I can't find what you're talking about. Or you could look up tremolo on Wikipedia: maybe that'll solve it.

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  • Thanks for your answer! I added a picture (I don't have a scanner with me right now), I hope that should clear things up. – Queso Pez Jun 19 at 2:53
  • Oh OK. The notes in the bass clef are written in two 'voices'. The ones with their stems up are one voice and those with their stems down the other. Try covering up all but the low minims: G Bb C F# etc. You play those with fingers 5, 4, 3, 5. Now cover THOSE up to leave just the crotchet rest and the G's on the bottom line. You play those with your thumb. Get it? So the order of fingers goes: 5 1 4 1 3 1 5 1 etc., the thumb playing on the offbeats. So in fact the left hand has a note on each beat of the bar. Got it? It's fun to play this bit. – Old Brixtonian Jun 19 at 4:08
  • Btw, that edition looks awful. What are the pedal-markings doing up THERE?! – Old Brixtonian Jun 19 at 4:09
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    Can't see any trem in the music. – Tim Jun 19 at 5:59
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    @Old - they're saving paper ;) They literally may have had to do it to fit it all in a given number of pages. – Tetsujin Jun 19 at 7:03

There’s a core confusion here: the two passages you describe are not actually the same notation.

The notation you describe in your first paragraph seems to be tremolo, correctly explained by your friend and illustrated in the answers by Laurence Payne and Old Brixtonian. The way to recognise this notation is that it has stems joined by bars like eighth-notes/quavers, but note-heads like half-notes/minims.

The notation you describe in your second paragraph, “I now came across a bar with three of these notes and one quarter note”, and illustrated in your photograph, is not tremolo, since it doesn’t have barred stems. This one really is half-notes, and as explained in Tim’s answer and a comment by Old Brixtonian, they are in two different voices.

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  • I explained the notation described by the OP in his/her second paragraph six hours ago, in my comment. – Old Brixtonian Jun 19 at 10:12
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    @OldBrixtonian: Thanks, I’ll add an acknowledgement of that. The point of my answer is to collate the earlier answers into a single answer, and clear up the confusion/contradictions that have arisen. The previous answers are good, but each only answers part of the question; none had explicitly addressed the OP’s conflation of the two notations; and some have confounded the confusion by taking the OP’s misunderstanding at face value (eg in Tim’s otherwise excellent answer, “Now the music's arrived, your friend isn't right”). – PLL Jun 19 at 11:18
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    The key confusion could lead to a new confusion as the term key is a little bit overused in music terminology ;) – Albrecht Hügli Jun 19 at 12:03

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