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This is pretty esoteric, but I have to ask: Consider the following excerpt from a score (“Titanic Suite” by James Horner, published by Hal Leonard), which includes two percussion staves, one with a mark tree glissando and one with a chime hit, both ending with laissez vibrer (l.v.) ties:

sheet music excerpt with two instruments using l.v. ties, one a quarter-note and one a whole note

Note how the mark tree glissando ends on a quarter-note, whereas the chimes note is a whole note. Similarly, l.v. ties are added to both quarter (or shorter) and whole notes throughout the score.

My question: Is there any particular rule or convention that says whether to use a shorter or longer note when using an l.v. tie? For instance, in the above example, why not use a whole note for the mark tree note? Does note length matter if they’re both using l.v. ties? Is it instrument-dependent? Or is it all purely stylistic?

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I think it’s mostly instrument dependent, and the excerpt you’ve given makes sense to me. I think the primary difference lies in how sustained notes are performed on the instrument in question; let’s start with a more obvious example.

If we had a part for cello, there would be a big difference between a whole note with l.v. mark and a quarter note. The whole note would mean that you continue bowing for four beats, the lv would just be an indication not to dampen the note once the fourth beat was done. With a quarter note, I would only play a single beat—depending on tempo, potentially just the initial attack—and then let the string vibrate. Now imagine it was a pizzicato cello part: the difference is suddenly pretty much meaningless, because the performer doesn’t do anything after the initial attack. That means that either a quarter or a whole note would have essentially the same effect, so the choice is less significant. For my money, the quarter note would potentially have sharper or shorter implications, but it’s a subtle distinction that probably doesn’t matter too much.

Now we come to your specific example, which I agree is less clear-cut. I think that if the mark tree used a whole note there would be some ambiguity about either whether the performer should continue raking up and down the instrument or whether the single raking motion should be slow enough to last for four additional beats. The sustain period of a mark tree, in other words, includes continued performance by the player. The chime is like the pizzicato cello above, the player does nothing else after the initial attack. Again, I think that using a quarter note here would be slightly less optimal since it would tend to emphasize rests and silence in a way that might make the l.v. part seem like it should be more of an afterthought, but you’re right that 98% of the time it wouldn’t make much difference. I think the default is just to go for the simplest notation, and quarter note–quarter rest–half rest is unnecessarily complicated compared to a single whole note.

If all else is equal (which is true for pizzicato cello and chimes, but not for arco cello and mark tree), go for simple and sustained-looking.

  • A very well-explained and well-reasoned answer. Thank you. – Walter Aug 25 '18 at 12:27
  • The mark tree is specifically instructed to rake UP here, not 'up and down'. A prolonged destination note wouldn't change this. – Laurence Payne Aug 25 '18 at 12:52
  • @LaurencePayne A whole note would introduce ambiguity about that, but even if you don’t agree with that, a whole note would potentially imply a much slower upward rake that lasts roughly five beats instead of two. – Pat Muchmore Aug 25 '18 at 13:28
  • Music notation really shouldn't be about 'potentially implying'. – Laurence Payne Aug 25 '18 at 14:03
  • Music notation is a subtle art, not a basic math equation. Most notational choices are heavily context-dependent and performers often make different choices that can be equally justified from the text alone. At any rate, it is precisely in order to avoid a potential ambiguity that I would advise using a quarter note rather than a whole note for the mark tree as in the example. – Pat Muchmore Aug 25 '18 at 14:53

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