I recently decided that I finally want to learn musical notation and I'm stuck. I'm not sure how to divide notes so that my sheet would be easy to read. I think the subdivisions should be clearly visible and I'm not quite sure if I'm not generating too many ties in places where, for example, I could put a dotted note. It would be fantastic if I could get any feedback on my transcription of this simple melody.enter image description here


@BruceFields pointed out that this melody comes from a song titled "When the Saints Go Marching In" and I should have written the rhythm differently. If I understood it correctly it should look like this.

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While he's absolutely right my question was more about dotted notes vs tied notes in a situation like below.

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  • Try using triplets for the groups of three eighth notes as it seems that's how you are using them (had more elegant comment, but the comments closed out twice).
    – Dom
    May 30, 2018 at 19:54
  • 3
    If that's "Oh when the saints", the first thing to fix is that you're off by an eighth note; those phrases start after the beat and end on the beat, so you should be starting with an eighth note rest. May 30, 2018 at 20:07
  • @BruceFields Yeah, I didn't even know the title of the song that this melody is from. Thanks for providing it. I just wanted to practice transcribing something "by ear". I heard this melody somewhere and it seemed like an easy one for a beginner, but as it comes out, there are catches. I'll try to fix it.
    – Protecto
    May 30, 2018 at 20:20
  • 1
    Triplets on the 8th notes would change the rhythm. It's not the same as counting 3 eight notes in 4/4.
    – user50691
    May 30, 2018 at 21:31

3 Answers 3


As you already said, it's up to you to decide what is more readable.

The example you provided is full of syncopes. In this case I think you made the right choices by using ties, because one can easily see that the note begins just before it "should". A dotted note that begins before the beat and extends all though it would be more confusing.

PS: I think you should start with half note rest, eight note rest, then start the melody, so that G is the first beat of the second bar. At least this is the version of this song I'm familiar with.

  • I think that's the answer I was looking for. "A dotted note that begins before the beat and extends all though it would be more confusing." So it seems that showing the underlying beat is important for readability.
    – Protecto
    May 30, 2018 at 22:05
  • There are definitely grouping rules when it comes to tied notes, it certainly is not just a matter of personal preference.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 31, 2018 at 8:46
  • "G is the first beat of the second bar." Whoops, you're right of course, my bad. Jun 1, 2018 at 0:39

I think this article on imaginary barlines may be helpful.

An imaginary barline is a notation convention designed to help the music reader know what’s syncopated—off the beat—and what’s not. It’s not an actual notation mark; it is an understanding and a notation convention.

On the most basic level you pretend that there is a bar line between beats 2 and 3, dividing the bar in to two even halves of 2 beats (assuming 4/4 time). Then you would make sure you do not put a beam across imaginary bar, same way you would never put eight notes spanning between the "and" of the 4th beat and the downbeat of the next measure.

That is the most basic part of the concept, check out the article for more details.


I too have been learning to read sheet music. Have been doing so for many a year, playing by ear all the while. Now I'm taking a basic piano course -- "Playing Piano for Fun" -- and like all my other introductory piano books 'The Saints' is one of the very first melodies learned. And with it's sheet music.

The first of the seventeen bars of 'The Saints' is an incomplete bar, consisting of the first three quarter notes of the melody. Because the time is 4/4ths, the last note in the fifteenth bar is tied to the single 'make up' quarter note in the last bar, the sixteenth. So by doing this the 4/4ths note missing from the bar at the beginning of the melody (that bar isn't counted in the melody's bar count) is made up (all by itself) in the sixteenth and last bar of the melody.

I'm obviously not an expert in reading sheet music. But I can read. And for what it's worth, try Googling your question with the last part substituting the word "music" before your title's last word..

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