What are the rules when it comes to how a slur handles tied notes set at the start or end of the legato passage? I think it looks nicer when the tied notes are included in the slur, but I don’t know whether it’s correct.

For example, with the tied notes at the end:

Which is correct: The top staff, with the slur leaving out the tied notes; or the bottom staff, with the slur encompassing the tied notes?

In this second example, the tied notes are before the legato passage:

As above, which is correct, the top or bottom staff?

I’d appreciate any thoughts on this.

2 Answers 2


The top staves are "correct" for a slur, the bottom staves are correct for a phrasing slur. For music like violin music, this difference is more poignant than for piano since a slur has separate technical meaning as a bowing direction instruction (which implies legato but the legato can be dissolved with tenuto or staccato marks) while a phrasing slur is basically a "play this phrase legato" instruction not focused on a particular instrument.

Because phrasing slurs may enclose slurs (the opposite would be rather strange), making slurs short with respect to tie scope helps to unclutter the score.

The slurs in the examples you quote are on the longish side regarding their compass so it is likely that they were intended as phrasing slurs in which case the bottom stave lines would do them better justice.

If they are intended primarily as a bowing or tongueing instruction, the top staves might be more correct.

  • Thanks for the detailed reply! So if I understand you correctly, I should reserve the “shorter” slurs (that don’t include all tied notes) for instrument-specific instructions (such as for strings), and use the “longer” slurs, as in the bottom staves, when I want to denote a legato passage? If so, is there a maximum length to this? For instance, what if a legato passage ends on a note that’s tied for the next twenty bars or something? I just want to be clear on the rules/conventions. Thanks again.
    – Walter
    Apr 29, 2017 at 9:22
  • 1
    @Walter the first rule of any music notation is "clarity". If you can think of a good reason why a slur extending over a 20-bar tied note makes your intention clearer, then write it that way. If not, don't. For example in keyboard music, the only actions the performer can take are at the start and end of the note. On other instruments, he/she can control the sound over the whole duration of the note. That may make a difference to what your notation needs to communicate to the player.
    – user19146
    Apr 29, 2017 at 14:11
  • @alephzero Yeah, I figured common sense would go into deciding how long a slur should be. I wanted to see whether there were any precise rules about their use (specifically where ties are concerned), and I think your and @user39917’s replies have cleared it up. I’m gonna go ahead and mark this as resolved. Thanks.
    – Walter
    Apr 29, 2017 at 14:36

A slur starts on the first note and ends at the end of the last note, so it makes sense to encompass the whole phrase, from beginning to the end of the last note, even when that could be several bars later.

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