I am transcribing Für Elise in flat.io and I have noticed that these two bars do not add to 3/8, but instead 2/16 and 1/4 respectively.

Beginning of Für Elise - the time signature is 3/8, but the first bar only has two sixteenth notes.  The first volta ending - the bar has only one quarter note.

I am guessing they somehow complement each other and that maybe I somehow have to indicate that they combine or something like that. Since I haven't figured it out yet, I've had to add some silence to account for the missing notes.

Transcription of the the first bar with a quarter rest added at the start.

Transcription of the first ending with an extra eighth rest added at the end..

What am I missing here? Do these kind of bars have a special name? How do I fix it?

3 Answers 3


The first measure that you highlighted in red is called a pickup measure (or anacrusis) and the bracket enclosing the second measure is called a volta bracket.

The combined length of the pickup measure and the measure in the 1st volta bracket does add to 3/8. Yes, they are complementary. Thus, in the Treble clef we have:

  • two sixteenth notes adding to one beat (1/8) in the pickup measure, and
  • one quarter note making up two beats (2/8) in the 1st volta bracket.

Please see @Aaron's answer for a complete explanation of the notation convention involving pickup measure.

The flat.io notation software DOES allow changing the length of the measure for both the pickup measure and the measure under the 1st volta bracket. It's a little tricky to find it, since it's buried under the Change or add a time signature toolbar icon.

To change the length of the measure in flat.io:

  1. Select the pickup measure

  2. Select Measure -> Time Signature -> Customize. Then specify the length of the pickup measure:

    Change the measure length of the pickup measure

    Change the measure length of the pickup measure part 2

  3. Select the measure under the 1st volta bracket

  4. Do the same thing as #2, but specify 2/8 instead for the "pickup":

    Change the measure length under the 1st repeat bracket

  5. You will come up with something like this:

    First few measures of Für Elise

  6. When I play the resulting score above, flat.io plays the 2 special measure durations before and after the 1st repeat correctly, validating that it is not confused.

To adjust the measure number so #1 starts with the measure after the pickup measure (it's a premium feature):

  1. Click "Layout settings"

  2. Under "Measure numbers", turn on "Number measures after the anacrusis"

    Number measures after the anacrusis

  • 1
    @blidt Glad I could help. Welcome to Music.SE. If you're not yet committed to flat.io, you may also want to consider MuseScore 4 notation software, which I think has a lot more features than flat.io while remaining free and have more exposure in Music.SE as well (see musescore questions). Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 3:52
  • Does changing the bar lengths like this mess up bar numbering?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 9:25
  • @wizzwizz4 No, but depending on your notation software you may need to specify that you want measure #1 to start after the pickup measure. See my updated answer. As you can see in the screenshot, the measure under the 1st volta bracket is numbered 8 as expected. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 14:51
  • @GratefulDisciple MuseScore 4 still seems to take a long time to load (especially if it loads a file with more than one voice) and still has crashing bugs. OP might actually find MuseScore 3 to be superior.
    – trlkly
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 18:26
  • @trlkly Thanks for the warning about MuseScore 4. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 22:16

You are correct that they complement each other. The first notes are called "pickup" notes or, more formally, they are an anacrusis: "one or more unstressed notes before the first bar line of a piece or passage." (Oxford Languages by way of Google search, "define anacrusis".)

Since the first ending repeats back to the very beginning of the piece, the anacrusis, that amount of time is taken away from that measure such that it plus the anacrusis form a complete measure.

It is also conventional, when a piece begins with an anacrusis, that the final measure of the piece also removes that amount of time, which is the case with "Für Elise."

When performing an piece that opens with an anacrusis, it is also common to count the omitted part of the measure. Thus, in this case, one would count "1, 2" with the anacrusis beginning on "3".

Another convention is that anacruses are not counted in the measure numbering. Measure 1 of a piece is the first complete measure.

As an aside, the anacrusis measure, considered as a complete measure, would be 2/16 or 1/8, but the first ending would be 4/16 or 2/8.

  • When performing classical pieces you do not really count measures, and if that is what you mean you do not count in (which would not really make sense with a solo piece anyway). Rather it is common practice to have one person (in larger ensembles this would be the conductor) give a visual cue, which precedes by one beat called aviso. In an anacrusis if this aviso falls on a weak beat you add another beat. So since in this case the anacrusis is on 3 we have aviso on 2, which is weak, so we have 1 - aviso - 3. If this were 4/8 then we’d have anacrusis on 4, so aviso on 3 (strong) so aviso - 4.
    – Lazy
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 17:39
  • @Lazy I'm not sure I understand your comment. We're discussing a solo piano piece, and for a beginner, which OP clearly is, one generally counts the "lead-in" beats prior to the anacrusis in order to set a steady tempo before beginning to play.
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 18:21

GratefulDisciple’s answer solves your problem of writing this in flat.io. But on the more traditional/theoretical side, the point is that what look like short “measures” are not actually whole measures — they’re part-measures. Every full measure is in 3/8; the piece opens at the 3rd beat of a measure, and similarly, the repeat-sign comes after 2 beats, and so is followed (each time) by a 3rd beat to make up that measure.

So if you count measures and beats the whole way through, you would get something like this:

3|1 2 3|2 2 3|3 2 3|4 2 3|5 2 3|6 2 3|7 2 3|8 2:3|9 2 3|10 2 3|11 2 3|12 2 3|13 2 3|14 2 3|15 2 3|16 2:3|17 2 3|18 2 3| … and so on

where the repeat sign : comes mid-measure each time — it’s not itself a barline dividing measures.

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