I am writing a piece that has a chord structure A, B, A, B,etc. with a melody that is not repeated.
When ending the B part the music wants to hang for an extra two beats before returning to the A part. It then means that my second A part starts in the middle of the bar unlike the first time around.

Can one insert half a bar to keep the uniformity or is there a way of showing a slowing down of the last two quarter notes by half so that in effect they become half notes? Or should I not be worrying about the fact that the part starts halfway through the bar?

As you can no doubt gather I am a novice at music notation.

  • Take a look at the image in this question, should be exactly what you want: music.stackexchange.com/q/32068/28
    – user28
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:04
  • If it can be less measured, I would als look into using a 'ritardando'.
    – Tim H
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:36
  • If you are expecting it to keep exactly the same tempo, then the 2/4 bar is the way to go. Roy Orbison did it in several numbers, notably Pretty Woman. Lots of people don't even notice the change.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 23:02
  • Bob Dylan just won a Nobel Prize doing this.
    – user207421
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 5:27
  • Become famous enough and you can literally do whatever you want.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:17

5 Answers 5


I'm not totally sure I understand what you are trying to achieve, but this might help:

There is no reason why you cannot change the time signature for just one bar, and then immediately change it back to what it was. For example, after a number of bars of 4/4 music, you can insert one bar of music with a new time signature of 2/4, and after that "half-sized" bar, go back to the previous time signature of 4/4.

Would that solve your problem?

  • 6
    Personally, I would prefer a time change for single bar, so that it is then really clear that the A part is the same the second time round. There is also another point: in a 4/4 bar, the first beat has the most stress, and the 3rd beat is a bit less, and the 2nd and 4th beats least stress, so that if you were to start the second occurrence of A halfway through a 4/4 bar, you would be changing the stress pattern at least slightly.
    – Old John
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 18:57
  • 1
    Possibly, yes - unless he wants a strongish stress every 4 beats.
    – Old John
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:02
  • 4
    @alephzero Probably not, they're not interchangeable. See music.stackexchange.com/q/5621/28
    – user28
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:03
  • 1
    Thank you @Old John that is what I need to hear. Yes the piece wants to be felt as 4/4 - just at that one place it needs to extend a bit (but not a whole bar). After reading what you said I realise I must go back and sort out a few old pieces with similar problems where the beginnings of sections land up in weird places. Much appreciated
    – J. Fourie
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:38
  • 3
    Meh, just total the number of quarter notes in the piece and have a single bar. 136/4 is a perfectly fine time signature. ;)
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 0:30

This has been said many times already on this site, but here goes...

The answer to all “can I do X”-questions in music is: yes, you can do anything!

Really, these questions have just two subquestions that should be considered:

  • “Do I want it”? Everything you put in a composition will have a certain effect on the end result. If you decide to put an F♯ in the melody of a piece in F over a D minor chord, nobody can stop you. It just will sound, ahem... Or to take a more relevant example, it's perfectly possible to use parallel fifths, and it won't sound wrong (except perhaps to some overzealous music educators), but it also won't give you quite the full intertwined-harmony sensation that classical composers achieve with their 4-voice counterpoint (which generally avoids parallel octaves and fifths, though even those composers make exceptions when it's musically useful).
    In your example, this questions reads “will it sound disruptive if I insert a single ²⁄₄ bar in the midst of my ⁴⁄₄ piece”? To which the answer is, possibly, but since ²⁄₄ is still pretty even, it will probably be barely noticable. In fact, if that extra half-metre fits logically in the melody, then it will likely sound less disruptive than the pause that a full ⁴⁄₄ bar would incur. So by all means don't shy away from that possibility, just be sure that it actually feels right.
    Whether something feels right is best determined by actually playing it, even if just in a much simplified manner.
  • “Is it practical”? Some things might theoretically work out great, but it's unrealistic to expect the musicians to be able to accurately render them out. Obviously this includes technically very difficult lines (it's always good to know yourself at least roughly how everything would actually be played, on each instrument), but also parts that are rhythmically or otherwise too hard to get together. And many musicians aren't capable of playing complex metres. But again – ²⁄₄ really isn't that far-out, almost nobody who's musical at all should have trouble with that. As already said, it's not uncommon either.

Is summary: yes, I reckon you should insert a single ²⁄₄ bar in that piece.

Then again, it can be good to have a bit of space. A rest in the main voice may be an opportunity to give e.g. the cello a bit of a melodic hook, or just to de-clutter everything.


Instead of changing time signatures, you might consider instead using a pause (fermata) on the last 2 beats worth of the last bar of section B.

I assume you are considering writing something like this at the end of your section B:

enter image description here

Instead you could consider doing this:

enter image description here

This may not be precisely what you want though. According to the wikipedia entry:

Exactly how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor, but twice as long is common.


Yes, you can. For example, take a look at Bring Me To Life by Evanescence. While the main part of the song is in 4/4 notation, the song "hangs" for two extra beats (just like you describe it) before the first chorus, at around 00:50.

  • How is it notated, though?
    – Random832
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:02
  • @Random832 unfortunately I don't have the sheet music for the song. I'll see if i can find it!
    – HenricF
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 7:26

If the piece is in 4/4 time, change measure to 2/2 time and indicate two notes with two half notes. Then change back to 4/4 time with quarter notes carrying the beat.

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