I'm very new to music notation... an absolute novice, so forgive me if this is an obvious beginner question.

My questions involve the use of fermata marks.

  1. In music notation, if I want to tell the player to play a note or chord in a measure slower than normal, then resume the specified tempo, I can put a fermata mark over the note (see measures 33 and 35 below) — The 2nd quarter note chord in measure 33 will be held longer.

    My first question is, do I also have to put the same fermata mark over the note or rest in the bass clef, or is it assumed that both the quarter chord and the rest will both be slowed together? (The same question applies to the example in measure 35. Must a fermata mark be placed over both the treble notes and the bass notes, or is the top fermata enough, as I showed in measure 34?)

  2. If a measure has 4 quarter notes and I want all 4 to be slowed, do I place a fermata over each of the four notes (as in measure 29 below), or do I change the tempo for just that measure by using a tempo mark, then restore the tempo with a new tempo mark in the next measure (see measure 30 & 31 below)?

    Alternatively, is there a way to allow a fermata mark to span multiple notes in one or more measures?

  3. According to what I've read, a fermata mark signifies to a player to slow that note or chord by a time stretch of 2x the normal tempo (= 1/2 the tempo speed). I realize that playing a piece is in part up to the player to judge, but if I want a note or chord slowed by different amounts, how do I give that direction to the player?

    For example, if in measure 33, suppose I want the 2nd quarter chord to be slowed just slightly, by a time stretch of 1.2 or 0.8 of the normal tempo (not by 1/2). How do I indicate that? Is there some written instruction I can append to the fermata mark to do so?

Two lines of Piano music with lots of fermata marks.
Measure 29 has four quarter notes in each of the treble and bass, with fermata marks appearing over the treble notes only.
Measure 30 and 31 have tempo indications.
Measure 33 has a fermata over a quarter note in the treble, and at the same moment a fermata over a quarter rest in the bass.
Measure 34 has a half note with a fermata over it in the treble, whilst the bass has four quavers without any fermata.
Measure 35 has fermata over a half note in the treble when the bass has a quarter note with a fermata and then a quarter note without.

  • 1
    Pied Piper's answer covers things well. In particular, fermatas don't meet slow down; they mean "hold". There are other instructions to indicate slowing down, speeding up, or resuming an earlier speed.
    – Aaron
    Feb 11, 2021 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


A fermata tells the player they can hold the note as long as they feel is appropriate and not a specified length of time. If you want a note held a specific length you should notate it exactly. If you want a specific tempo you should notate it. You can place a fermata over all the notes of a measure, but you can't rely on them all being the same length.
Convention is to place the fermata over both systems, but you can get away with one system if your intention is clear (M.29). Your intention is not clear in M.34: do you want the first LH eighth held, or do you want the four eighth notes spread over the fermata?
If you just want a section played a bit slower you can write rallentando (rall.) or ritardando (rit.) and then a tempo.

  • Or "slower," or "meno mosso," or any specific slower tempo indication followed by "tempo primo," or ...
    – phoog
    Feb 11, 2021 at 23:34
  • So, if I understand, I should add a Fermata mark to both the treble and bass clefs at any point where I want the note paused a bit before moving on to the next note. Is that correct? I understand. However, if I want just a single note or chord held just a bit longer (0.8 of regular tempo, as in measure 33 above), there is no good way I can indicate that tempo on the music? I have to trust the player sort of interprets it correctly and slows it down as they see fit? If not, please realize I am too new to grasp your answer clearly. Thanks for understanding.
    – fsgregs
    Feb 12, 2021 at 0:55
  • Yes, the fermata normally goes over both treble and bass clefs, There is no notation for a single note 0.8 times the tempo. If you want a quarter note a bit longer then write a half note, or a dotted quarter, or tie it to a sixteenth note,
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 12, 2021 at 11:05
  • @fsgregs - When it comes to holding Beat 2 of Measure 33 (I assume these are the notes you want slowed) for 1.2 times longer than usual, I'll repeat PiedPiper's words that "If you want a specific tempo you should notate it" and ask you to give a new tempo marking for only that beat, then change back to the previous tempo a beat later.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 12, 2021 at 14:04

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