Usually, the length of a fermata depends on the performer. In a song I'm composing, I use fermatas quite often and the way I want the performer to interpret them is to hold the note until the sound fades. Is there any way to denote this?

This is a piece for piano, but I'm interested in notation on other instruments as well.

  • 1
    'Let ring' comes to mind. But it wouldn't work on, say, a trumpet!
    – Tim
    Feb 13, 2016 at 9:30
  • Laissez vibrer may also work. Either using sustain pedal or holding notes till dead.
    – Tim
    Feb 13, 2016 at 9:35
  • Fermata means pause just BTW.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 13, 2016 at 10:16
  • I think prolongation of a note is more accurate Feb 13, 2016 at 10:19
  • 1
    Fermata can also be found over a rest, so perhaps just 'prolongation' only, is more accurate. 'Lunga' is also written in over the fermata, to indicate a much longer prolongation. When playing keys, I sometimes use the slow fermata with a swell pedal, at the end of a piece, often on organ or string sounds.
    – Tim
    Feb 14, 2016 at 8:16

6 Answers 6


Usually a diminuendo completely dying away can be notated a niente ("to nothing"), but this only works for voice, or other instruments where the volume can be controlled continuously. On a piano you are a bit stuck, once you have played the notes. There is a Fantasia in C major for piano by Haydn (Hob.XVII:4), in which he writes an octave (played by both hands), and over it writes "tenuto in tanto finchè non si sente più il sono", or "hold for however long, until no more sound can be heard". The last preceding indication is f so on a modern piano this is completely unrealistic. And the fact that Haydn thought it appropriate to write a whole sentence suggests there is no standard way of asking for this effect, even when it is practicable.

  • 2
    A pianist can do a niente, though not a controlled one. Hold the keys, or the pedal, until the sound ends.
    – Laurence
    Feb 13, 2016 at 19:32
  • Surely a niente is just subjective to the instrument concerned. A piano, harp, guitar etc., will have its own rate of decay. Trumpet may depend on how long the player wants to keep up the circular breathing, however. So it probably wouldn't be written for such an instrument.
    – Tim
    Feb 14, 2016 at 10:48

Put an index of symbols at the beginning of the score describing special events like you mentioned and use that symbols throughout the piece.

It is best to come up with a new symbol or an obvious modification of the regular fermata sign. You can also define the regular fermata sign to refer holding until the sound fades. But this may confuse some players or they may forget the meaning and play traditionally because of habits.

Providing an index is a common practice in modern composition as many pieces introduce different ways to interpret the score rather than rely on musical traditions. Consider the increase of use and variety of signs over time since Baroque until today.

I also suggest to calculate yourself and write in standart notation corresponding to the the exact length you need, as this will be quite accurate and forcing the player to play directly what you intended. This is also a common practice in modern notation where the composer asks for more precise interpretation and don't want to leave things to chance.

Using terms referring the passages rather than single notes may result in unintended ritardando's and diminuendo's or some other unexpected effects spread to the whole passage rather than the note to be held until it fades.


"Let ring" would be the terminology most commonly used in the context of playing guitar. I'd also imagine that it would be unambiguous for some other instruments, e.g. hand-bells or xlyophones.

This type of notation ("let ring" or the indications in some of the other answers) only makes sense for instruments that have an intrinsic decay. For instruments that sustain, voice, bowed strings woodwinds etc. it would make more sense to indicate the diminuendo to silence explicitly as per Brian Chandler's answer.


I think the technical word that applies here is morendo. It is used to indicate both a ritardando and diminuendo. The intention of a composer when writing morendo at the end of a cadenza or a fermata, is to make the sound slowly die away.

  • morendo can be interpreted to cover the passage so that players play last part of your piece morendo which can be irrelevant. Feb 13, 2016 at 14:26
  • @GuneyOzsan why is it irrelevant? I might have misanderstood the question, but I've always thought morendo as some kind of both diminuendo and ritardando, like perdendo or calando. That is the effect I think the OP is looking for.
    – user314159
    Feb 13, 2016 at 14:34
  • I mean irrelevant with the composer's intent as the effect in question should be applied to a single note but morendo is an impression spread over time and can be interpreted to include all notes and some bars around the word. For example you may hold a note until it fades but play a passage with a very different character than morendo at the same time. Feb 13, 2016 at 14:42

Or, if this occurs at the end of a section, just tie several measures of whole notes (if in 4/4 for example). Maybe just two whole notes tied with a fermata over each.


If you really want to be technical you could use the term mancando. Which means fade away or fade to black.


A directive to perform a certain passage of a composition with decreasing volume, or for the volume to grow quieter, and die away.


  • This term refers to the passage rather than a single note which may create confusion when you need to apply fade out to a single note and play a different passage at the same time. This kind of terms may introduce unintended ritardando's and diminuendo's as well. Feb 13, 2016 at 14:46

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