I've written a piece of music, for string quartet plus triangle. But I'm having trouble expressing the last bar in the right way.

In the second half of the bar:

  • The top three strings are to play a minim note, held for a bit longer than normal.
  • In this time, the cello plays two crotchets, and both should be a bit longer than normal.
  • Meanwhile, the triangle is to play a tremolo roll (slowing throughout), followed by a brief (quaver) rest, and then final crotchet note.

If it were just for the top three strings I'd use a fermata (pause) symbol "𝄐".
If it were just for the cello or triangle parts, I'd use a ritenuto text marking "riten." (or similar).
But when the parts are combined it is a bit confusing.

I could use an explicit tempo change i.e. "𝅘𝅥=42". But this would seem like a bit of overkill, and is too precise to be really what I intend. Also, it wouldn't indicate a continual slowing down, unless I used one for every note of the tremolo roll.

I could use a ritenuto marking for all instruments, but this don't really make much sense when placed over a single note (for the upper strings).

Using a fermata on both cello notes would seem wrong, and placing a fermata on the triangle part doesn't really make much sense.

I could use some combination of fermata for the strings, and ritenuto for the cello and triangle, (which is what I have at the moment) but this seems yuck; unnecessarily awkward and potentially confusing:
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What is the best way that I can notate what I intend to be played, that is less clunky and garbled?

3 Answers 3


The minim in each of the top three parts is written as a crotchet tied to another crotchet. Now your 'riten.' applies to the whole ensemble, and now that they're all slowing down, you might not need the fermate, but it's up to you. If you do, remember the triangle part needs one too.

Now that the 'riten.' applies also to the triangle, you should write the tremolo as a dotted quaver, followed by a semiquaver rest (or perhaps as a double-dotted quaver followed by a demisemiquaver rest) since the tempo has slowed down.

BTW, Your "tremolo roll (slowing throughout)" is a bit vague. You do mean the tempo slows, not the tremolo, right? (That would be unusual in a piece like yours.)

  • Would the tied crotchets be interpreted as meaning a re-articulation of the pitch?
    – Aaron
    Sep 20, 2020 at 1:19
  • Not if they're tied! It doesn't look odd to yer trained musicians. They see it a lot, and they know it means there's some 'local difficulty' somewhere in the orchestra/ensemble. If there's a conductor they follow him/her. In a quartet with a triangle they'd decide in rehearsals whether they were going to watch the triangleur or the first violinist or whoever is leading.... Sep 20, 2020 at 1:50
  • BUT - as it stands the first violin looks a bit of a chump playing with an up-bow when the others are on a down bow. They would sort it out of course, but it does need bowing-marks or phrasing. Then, when they're all playing the third crotchet on down bows, it would feel final. Sep 20, 2020 at 1:54
  • 1
    In just the first violin? Not a tie: a slur. Yes, or a bow-change perhaps. But then you'd have to see to the cello too. Maybe they're all playing legato already. Who knows? I think you're talking about it in the abstract rather than in this particular context. If not, it's a bit difficult when we don't know the tempo, the key-signature, the bowing or any existing dynamics, or expression-markings, or whether its major or minor, and there are no hairpins. There may be other things for the OP to take care of.... Sep 20, 2020 at 4:03
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    Yes, I meant in general how does one indicate a legato rearticulation for strings. I think I get it though. The notes would be slurred, rather than tied, and there could be additional markings making the rearticulation clear.
    – Aaron
    Sep 20, 2020 at 4:15

Upper Strings: Place the fermatas as you have, and add the "riten." I suggest putting it in parentheses and italics to indicate that it's a cue from another part. That will make sense to an experienced performer. If you want to go a step further, you could add explicit cello cues so the upper strings can see exactly what's going on.

Cello: Place fermatas on both crotchets, since you want each to be extended, keeping the "riten." as is. Consider adding a cue so the cellist understands that the triangle has a rest before the final note.

Triangle: Place fermatas on the roll, the rest, and the final crotchet, according to which ones should be extended. A fermata on the final crotchet can again be in parentheses to signal that it's a cue for another part.


It isn’t necessary to indicate every single detail for the musicians. As it is the end of the piece I’m sure all intelligent musicians will read this gestura like it is meant by you without additional information: slowing down, communicating with each other. You even don’t need to notate ritenuto, diminuendo, fermatas, tenuto, or rests. All these indications seem redundant to me unless you want this finale performed staccato, fortissimo, stringendo.

  • 1
    Quite right. Who cares? Literally who cares? No need to indicate the exact notes either. Intelligent musicians would come up with something. BTW, I assumed it WAS fortissimo! What made you think it wasn't? Sessions are expensive. If you can save five minutes by having the bowing sorted out before the musicians arrive, you can spend that extra time smiling encouragingly at the French horns. Sep 20, 2020 at 18:44
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    BTW, I assumed it WAS fortissimo! What made you think it wasn't? good point! Probably because I’m not so smart like you. ;) I thought pp will always be less clunky and garbled. But saving time for smiling at the French horns would be nice! You give a good idea: Writing a Symphony for an intelligent orchestra: empty sheets of white paper. They will find their notes alone. Sep 20, 2020 at 19:04
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    @AlbrechtHügli Empty sheets of white paper I think John Cage may have beaten us too it.
    – Aaron
    Sep 21, 2020 at 4:44
  • So sorry, Aaron, for me ... I would have bet, that this work of mine should have become a world hit. But back to OP’s title: why not leave the freedom to the performer whether they want to play forte or pianissimo? Music is not only the written notes, also the moment, the room, the circumstances, the audience ... Sep 21, 2020 at 4:48
  • It's my work of genius, and so the musicians will play exactly what I tell them to damn play. After all, they are just robots living inside my computer. Except they just aren't great with Italian, so despite the ritenuto marking I'll still need to write a series of (invisible) explicit tempo changes too. Sep 21, 2020 at 6:07

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