There are two ties in the bass part of the following excerpt for a Drop D guitar part. Both of them include some other different notes. According to the tie's definition, 16th note + 8th note = 3/16th note.

In the case of the first tie, should I play a 3/16th note at the beginning of the second measure, or shall I play a whole 3/8th note?

enter image description here

  • I wouldn't do this myself. It's more accurate to write out the entire note value, in this case a quarter note. In fact, since this is 6/8 time, I would just use a dotted quarter note here and get rid of the tie altogether. In both cases.
    – BobRodes
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:55

2 Answers 2


The way this is written is just incorrect. You can guess what it means: you have to hold the base note while you play the other notes. But I insist: the way it's written is just wrong; it is not an acceptable notation. In these cases you just write the base note with its correct duration as a different voice.

[EDIT] A correct way of writing this: Written musical excerp

[EDIT] Another way, for guitar, etc.: Written musical excerp

  • Maybe the author used the software which only support two voices in a staff. Is it possible to represent it in just two voices? It would be much more helpful if you draw the correct way in a staff. Mar 30, 2014 at 2:11
  • I added a correct way of writing this. I'm afraid there is no proper way to write it in two voices, because there are three.
    – George
    Mar 30, 2014 at 2:28
  • 1
    Alternatively, George, since the original excerpt appears to have been written for guitar, it should remain on one staff (therefore the ledger lines are acceptable.) A proper way to write it in two voices would be to merely show a short tie coming off the bass voice of the grouping - this would complement the written directions of "let basses ring" from the original example. Mar 30, 2014 at 5:39
  • I didn't think of the guitar. I edit the post by adding another example in one staff, that would be also correct.
    – George
    Mar 30, 2014 at 7:43
  • While I agree that your suggested notations are often better, these are known as "Ravel ties" -- I've edited my answer with some examples.
    – NReilingh
    Mar 30, 2014 at 18:50

This is something that I generally wouldn't write myself when typesetting or editing a piece of music, but is nonetheless an acceptable notation for piano music involving arpeggios.

You interpret it simply by ignoring the notated value of the first note except to figure out where the next note in the arpeggio should be. Just hold the note through the duration of the tie, playing the arpeggiated chord above it as written.


There seems to be some disagreement over the acceptability of this notation. Like I said, personally I would opt instead for something like what Beethoven does on the second-to-last page of the Moonlight Sonata), but in spite of the voice-rhythm inconsistency, the notion of tying an arpeggio to a chord is an accepted practice for chording instruments like piano, guitar, and harp.

They are known as Ravel ties, and you will see questions about them crop up often in community forums for notation programs like Sibelius and Finale, since they are generally not played back properly (in current versions of the software) without some extra tweaking. Lilypond, however, even goes so far as to include the example in their documentation, and I'm certainly not going to argue with the wonderful engraving nerds that run that project!

Some real-world examples can be found all over Ravel's own Gaspard de la Nuit, alongside similar usage for grace-notes (possibly a more "readily accepted" usage), in the first and third movements in particular:

First movement, bar 31 First movement, last measure Third movement third movement, last measure

  • 1
    It also has the comment "Let basses ring" to indicate this. Mar 29, 2014 at 11:09
  • Agreed; I might have written a dotted eighth, with the moving line notated as sixteenth rest followed by the sixteenth and quarter. There's really two moving lines plus a "pedal tone" in that measure. Mar 29, 2014 at 11:32
  • Dotted quarter, not eighth, no?
    – BobRodes
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:58
  • @NReilingh - I respectfully disagree that this is acceptable notation - for piano or any instrument otherwise. The durations of tied tones must correlate with the rhythms occurring during the tie. The exception here is of course if there are two or more parts being portrayed in the same staff (such as trumpet I, trumpet II) and therefore have different music. That said, if the parts are too different rhythmically, they must be notated on individual staves. In the case of the provided example, it should be notated as a 16th tied to a 16th tied to a 1/4 tied to 1/8 for maximum clarity. Mar 30, 2014 at 5:36
  • 1
    @jjmusicnotes Oh, no argument that the score in question is completely bonkers! But at the end of the day, the objective of notation is to communicate efficiently with the player, and this practice reduces clutter on the page while still being unambiguous… so despite Ravel's eagerness to break notational rules, I think we can say he wasn't doing it to make his scores harder to read. Anyway, this score was all I had access to; anecdotally, the practice seems to be a common occurrence in classical guitar music, but I would like to hear more from experienced classical guitarists on the matter.
    – NReilingh
    Mar 30, 2014 at 23:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.