Similar to how you can fill a whole 4/4 bar with a single whole note, what is the best or most correct/readable way to fill a 9/8 bar with one note? I was thinking about a dotted half note tied with a dotted quarter note, but it looks a bit funny.

  • 1
    @NoelWalters Rests and notes are different w.r.t. full-bar duration!
    – yo'
    Aug 3, 2015 at 8:39

4 Answers 4


Yes, it looks a bit funny, but you're right, the correct way to write a note that lasts for a full 9/8 bar is to tie a dotted minim (dotted half-note) to a dotted crotchet (dotted quarter-note). However, it is not correct to tie three dotted-crotchets or to tie a dotted-crotchet to a dotted-minim (with the dotted-crotchet first).

enter image description here

There are instances where you might use an unconventional grouping for a note lasting a full bar, such as this:

enter image description here

However, this is a special case; you wouldn't use a grouping such as this unless necessary.

  • 4
    What authority tells us what is correct and what isn't in this case? All three options are perfectly readable, and they all reflect the natural grouping in a 9/8 measure.
    – Matt L.
    Aug 3, 2015 at 9:00
  • 4
    Authority sounds like such a strict word! I prefer to think of us following generally agreed conventions which have developed through music history. I agree that each of the examples above are equally easy to read (for the basic compound-triple grouping of 9/8 - @yo' points out others are possible). However, it is still useful for there to be a conventionally agreed default notation, where several could be used. BTW, the source I checked for this is the AB Guide to Music Theory Volume One. Aug 3, 2015 at 9:31
  • 1
    Thanks for the reference. I asked because I always get a bit nervous when I hear "it is not correct to ..." when there is no good practical reason (such as readability) to prefer one option over another.
    – Matt L.
    Aug 3, 2015 at 10:32
  • 1
    Personally, I would keep emphasising the three beats of the bar and tie together three dotted crotchets. Ensuring a strong count of 3 a musician counts the length of a sustained note. Although this is an editorial decision, there really isn't a single standard approach.
    – AJFaraday
    Aug 3, 2015 at 11:06
  • 1
    I was told my composition teacher that musical convention ties a longer note to a shorter note, not a shorter note to a longer note, though he also said that American music will often tie shorter notes to longer notes when music is syncopated. In this case, though, the music is not syncopated, so convention would have the dotted half go first.
    – Heather S.
    Sep 30, 2018 at 23:17

Your solution is right, but in the end, it depends on how you phrase the bars in the piece. If for instance in a piano piece there's a rhythm 3/8 1/4 1/2 against it in the other hand, I would be tempted to use two ties and make the long note 3/8 ~ 1/4 ~ 1/2 as well.

Other than that, what Bob expains is correct: The standard notation is 3/4 ~ 3/8.


OK, but what then about the case where you want a note that fills a 9/8 bar, but there's a fermata on the downbeat? In your example of dotted half tied to dotted quarter, where do you put the fermata? On the dotted half? That makes it seem like there is then going to be an ictus on the dotted quarter. On the dotted quarter, you say? Well, that's clearly wrong, because we want the fermata on the downbeat.

This makes clear that we need a way to represent a note value that fills a bar, no matter what the meter signature is of the bar. I think the answer is: a whole note. In a non-4/4 or 2/2 context, the whole note should be understood to represent the entire bar.

  • 1
    Welcome to Music SE. What's wrong with putting the fermata on the initial dotted half? I don't know how familiar you are with musical notation, but if a 3/4 piece for many instruments has a fermata, you may write a fermata on a dotted half in one part, and, say, three quarters with the fermata on one of them in another part. And why put a whole note in a bar which isn't 4/4 or 2/2? Nobody interprets a whole note as representing the entire bar.
    – Rosie F
    Sep 30, 2018 at 17:21
  • 2
    Inte"rest"ingly, a whole rest IS understood to function this way, but I've never heard of that being extrapolated to whole notes as well. I'm not sorry for the pun
    – user45266
    Sep 30, 2018 at 19:17
  • If there's a fermata in a specific place, you notate so as to make it clear exactly where it comes. Even if it does end up as rather messy. Aug 30, 2019 at 10:32

Use the correct notes, i.e. a dotted half tied to a dotted quarter, and locate the fermata right under or over (as the case may be) the middle of the tie.

  • What fermata?
    – user45266
    Nov 18, 2019 at 4:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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