I found conflicting information about this online.

I am only familiar with 4/4, nothing else.

So, I was wondering if a whole note always one bar long, regardless of the time signature?

Or is it longer in other time singatures? For example, in 3/4 is it 1 bar + 1 quarter note?

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    In a given time signature, you never use a single note that spans multiple bars. So a whole note would never be used in 3/4 time. If you want to indicate a note that is held over multiple bars, you use ties to denote this. Jan 10 at 21:27
  • 1
    The drawback of fractional names is that terms like "whole" can become ambiguous (if you consider them in terms of fractions of a bar). In reality, those fractions are abstract values derived from the concept of "whole as in four fourths", where the "fourth" is fundamentally a unit. Considering this, imagine a bar as it were a box: a 3/4 "box" can only hold 3 "fourth units"; since a "whole note" is a 4-fourths value, you cannot fit it in that box: you need to "split" it in two boxes, with a tie that clarifies that the two parts belong to the same note, even if they are in different boxes. Jan 11 at 2:58
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    Out of interest where was this misinformation?
    – Tim
    Jan 11 at 9:52
  • "I don't always use the Internet, but when I do, I believe everything I see." - OP
    – user59346
    Jan 11 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


Whole notes are always equal to four quarter notes, so are not used in 3/4 time. Whole rests, however, are used for whole measures regardless of time signature.

  • 1
    @MusicQuestions7 To expand: A whole note might be used in a time signature that has more beats, like 6/4, and it would be less than the entire measure. Jan 10 at 21:27
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    Also: It's an unusual situation since it reflects older practice, but there can be an exception to "a whole rest is an entire measure": In 4/2 it's only half a measure, and you'd need a breve rest for the entire measure. That's not really something to worry about at first, though. Jan 10 at 21:30

No. A whole note rest symbol can be used as a "whole bar rest" with the respective length when it is written in the center of the bar as opposed to its normal placement left in a column with other first notes.

There is a very rare case of a "bordun note" with plenty of syllables without prescribed rhythm used in baroque, typically liturgical music (like Monteverdi's Vespers) used in a similar manner in the center of a bar. However, the symbol being used in that function is not a whole note but a full brevis (length of two whole notes).

In contrast to whole bar rests (which are ubiquitous also in modern music), many will never encounter this special case of a whole bar note.

  • “… normal placement left in a column with other first notes“ —is this describing a chord? The meaning here isn’t clear to me. Also, note the question is about whole notes and doesn’t actually mention rest. Jan 11 at 0:46
  • @AndyBonner "No" addressed the main question and then proceeds to explain about whole rests. It's also explaining that when used for a whole measure, the rest is placed at the center of the bar. When placed at left, in line with the first notes of other staves/voices, it's counted like a normal whole rest (such as in a bar of 3/2 with two beats rest and one beat played).
    – Aaron
    Jan 11 at 1:06
  • Reminds me of this answer: music.stackexchange.com/a/131863/53709 Jan 11 at 2:27
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    @ElementsInSpace Actually, I agree. So much so that I've closed as a duplicate. I think both the questions and answers are fundamentally the same.
    – Aaron
    Jan 11 at 2:33

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