I was looking through a score by Bartok (5th String Quartet) and came across a symbol I didn't recognize. There is a dot between each line in the clef.

What does this mean?

Measures 26-27

Edit: Here's another example, which looks more like a barline:

enter image description here

  • If I would have a guess I would think it is and arpeggio marking.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 26, 2015 at 19:01

2 Answers 2


In this particular quartet, the solid bar lines are being used for coordination, but the instruments themselves are following their own metres which are demarcated by the dotted bar lines: the music is polymetric. The beaming across the bar line confirms this interpretation.

In the first example, the first violin is counting 4/8, 5/8, 3/8, 4/8; the 2nd violin is counting 4/8, 5/8, 7/8; and the viola and 'cello are counting 6/8, then two bars of 5/8. (The interpretation of each instrument's first and last "bars" might change depending on what precedes and follows the example.)

In the second example, the first and second violins are completing a "bar" with their first two quavers, then following with two bars of 7/8; the viola and 'cello are beating 5/8, 4/8 and 7/8.

  • I was looking for a pattern but they kept falling after different numbers of eighths. Thanks!
    – Josiah
    May 26, 2015 at 19:50
  • 5
    Well, it's polymetre with a twist: not only are the instruments following their own metres, but those metres are constantly changing.
    – user16935
    May 26, 2015 at 20:03
  • 4
    Yay for Bartok!
    – Josiah
    May 26, 2015 at 20:03

This sort of notation normally means a "semi-barline". I have seen it where (e.g.) a 4/4 bar is divided into two halves by a dotted barline, meaning "It's in 4/4, but well you might also feel it in 2/4".

This example is a bit more difficult, but then it is Bartok. I would guess that the parts are supposed to "feel" the tempo divided into different ways.

But you needn't take my word for it: Gardner Read calls them "dotted barlines", and even discusses the Bartok string quartet no. 5, which divides up the different parts in just this way.

  • Got a link for that citation? That's interesting, and "Bartok-y". I wondered about dotted barline, but they occur all over the place within the measures and across parts that it didn't seem likely. See edit, I think you're right.
    – Josiah
    May 26, 2015 at 19:11
  • Elain Gould in Behind the Bars also calls them dotted barlines. She state that they mark subdivisions of a bar, especially useful in very long bars or irregular ones, e.g. subdivided 2+2+3.
    – guidot
    May 26, 2015 at 19:29
  • 2
    Gardner Read, "Music Notation", the section beginning p. 215 in the paperback edition I have... May 27, 2015 at 5:38

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