I found this vertical dash on some sheet music and I can't figure out what it is or what does it mean. I've tried looking through Wikipedia's list of symbols, but I couldn't find it there and me searching for a vertical line on the staff only yielded results about barlines.


The image is a snippet from Lutheran church music for the organ, specifically, it's Bach's Jesu, wahres Brot des Lebens or a similar piece by Johan Crüger/Johan Frank, Deck thyself my soul with gladness. I don't have the sheet music at hand at the moment so I can't be sure which.

Edit2: Did some looking around and found a picture of the full piece on my hard drive. Full piece

  • What it looks like to me is that it was originally written with the D on the same beat as the C# and the slash is the rest of the stem. You'll notice the stem on the D is a little shorter than normal too.
    – Duston
    Feb 16 at 19:40
  • 1
    Closely related if not a duplicate: music.stackexchange.com/questions/70009/…
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 16 at 20:30
  • @Dekkadeci That one seems limited to Adams Feb 16 at 21:09
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    Also either closely related or an outright duplicate: music.stackexchange.com/questions/73894/…
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 16 at 21:27
  • Knowing that it's a Bach organ work, I'm going to double down on the possibility that it marks an instance of a theme. Also, sometimes in hymnals we see markings like this showing places that the organist might choose to use as an introduction (more often an angle bracket, but sometimes I've seen other marks for secondary-choice spots). At any rate, it ought to be explained in the edition. When you get a chance, please share a larger screenshot with more context. Feb 16 at 22:21

2 Answers 2


It’s a “breath” mark. In vocal or wind instrument parts, its meaning is literal: take a quick breath. In piano music it’s like a phrase mark and means to leave a little space (I.e. a “breath”) between the two notes on either side. It’s not common in piano music, but not unusual.

  • 3
    Is it, though? Typographically, it looks to me more like things i’ve seen to mark the theme in a fugue, or metric meanings like situations in which there’s a reason to demarcate a half bar, like for phrasing purposes Feb 16 at 20:23
  • I thought a breath mark was a comma, and as a mark on a piano score, there's probably only one well-known player who'd use it... or were there several..?
    – Tim
    Feb 16 at 20:35
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    Does it differ from a comma breath mark or from a caesura? Feb 16 at 20:57
  • @ArnasŠniokaitis It's the same as a comma. Not a full break, but a quick breath.
    – Aaron
    Feb 16 at 23:22
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    @ArnasŠniokaitis If both are in the same piece, then the comma represents a more significant break, as at the end of a phrase, while the tic is a quick breath. If they're in different pieces, then the likely mean the same thing, which you'd confirm by looking at the context.
    – Aaron
    Feb 22 at 18:33

I'd like to expand on Aaron's answer that the symbol is a breath mark.

Taking the clue that the page is from "Lutheran church music for the organ", the following is a tip for the organist to accompany hymn singing.

  • The first system is a suggested fancy organ hymn introduction:

    • It starts with the first 7 notes of the first line (to give the congregation a clue) except the next 3 notes ends the first line in a different place with modulation to F major (which grabs the congregation's attention).
    • Since metrically the intro finishes the modified first line, there is a breath mark. To execute this, the organist should play the notes of the 2nd beat of the 3rd measure as an 8th note (thus inserting an 8th note rest), but should keep the tempo (no slowdown).
    • The final 7 notes modulates back to the key of the hymn (D major) and the top note ends in F#, the same first note for the congregation to sing.
    • Although there is no breath mark at the end of the introduction, it is implied. To execute the breath mark, the organist should play the whole note as a dotted half note (3 beats) and a full quarter rest. This is to signal the congregation to start singing after the rest is over.
  • The next 2 systems is the hymn proper for the congregation to sing, accompanied by the organ:

    • For each breath mark, the organist needs to convert the whole note to a dotted half note plus a quarter rest.
    • Again, there is also an implied breath mark at the repeat sign, so the whole note also needs to be played as a dotted half note plus a quarter rest.

In this way, the organ breathes along with the congregation throughout the hymn by playing a full quarter rest each time. The result is a beautifully sounded hymn for human voice and organ in a perfect synch because they breathe together.

P.S. Except at the very end of the intro and the very end of the hymn, the pedal should not participate in the rest (thus held for the full note value), thus we have a nice flowing bass line while the other notes participate in the congregation breathing. If not using pedal, the lowest note of the chord needs to be held.

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