# What do Four Vertical Dots mean?

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?

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

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

## 2 Answers

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! Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:50
• Well, it's polymetre with a twist: not only are the instruments following their own metres, but those metres are constantly changing.
– user16935
Commented May 26, 2015 at 20:03
• Yay for Bartok! Commented 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. Commented 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. Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:29
• Gardner Read, "Music Notation", the section beginning p. 215 in the paperback edition I have... Commented May 27, 2015 at 5:38