I am taking part in a music theory course on Coursera, and I could not understand the difference between a tie and a fermata. Could someone please explain it to me?

2 Answers 2


A fermata, or pause, lasts an undetermined length of time. Not too long, but at the player's discretion. It can make , say, a semibreve in 4/4 last 5 beats. Ties join the same pitch notes for a couple of reasons. Over a bar line, so the second note doesn't get played again, but carries on; to make up a note length that's not available; and to write notes in a readable manner, such as the second and third beats in 4/4 played as one note. A fermata can also be used over a rest, again, to make it slightly longer than written.

  • Actually, fermatas should be held approximately twice the duration of the original note value. The exact length is, as you alluded to, determined by the musicians and the stylistic context of the music. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 14:08
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    @jjmusicnotes - Hmm. Twice as long sounds a bit dogmatic. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 18:23
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    @Tim - I agree. If jjmusicnotes had put this contribution in an Answer, I would have voted it down. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 18:27
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    @jjmusicnotes - It sounds like you've got some good material here to write an Answer. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:30
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    @jjmusicnotes - if a composer wanted a note/chord held for a specific length, a 'proper' dot would be used, I guess. If he wanted it left up to discretion, a fermata would suffice.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 7:01

That sounds like a strange music theory course since a tie and a fermata are absurdly different things.

A tie means that a note has to be written as several consecutive notes for notational reasons (interfering bar lines or line breaks, hard to read rhythm, unrepresentable total note duration) but is a single note with the total length of all tied written notes.

A fermata means that a note serves as a temporary (or actual) ending and should be held for longer than its nominal value: the music is coming to a stop here. Usually fermata are on notes ending at the same time in all instruments but there are cases where a new start threads into a fermata, naturally in a voice that cannot itself end in a fermata.

There also is the "laissez-vibrer tie": those are ties ending in the void. They indicate for percussive instruments like guitar to not dampen (or unfinger) the strings in question after the preceding note has ended but just let them ring out naturally while continuing without pause otherwise.

But while a fermata means "end this note late, stopping the clock", "laissez-vibrer" means to not give any determinable ending and keeping the speed.

  • Actually, a tie does not mean that several consecutive notes need to be written. A tie simply joins two or more notes together. Music should technically not stop at fermatas, since all they indicate is a hold. A caesura indicates a break in the music. For those who don't speak French, "laissez-vibrer" means "let vibrate" and is typically notated as "l.v." in scores where they occur. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 14:06

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