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 yealded 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 harddrive. 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
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    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

1 Answer 1


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.

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    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

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