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For my understanding, the top notes D and F are slurs, the bottom notes G and C, what are they? Please help! Thanks!


While slurs and ties look pretty well the same, it's straightforward. Connecting two notes of different pitch, they're slurs; connecting two notes of the same pitch, they're ties. So, the bottom notes in each stave are held over, the B and D on top converge to C, and the F at the bottom drops to E.

  • 1
    @replete - seems like keep it simple wasn't too successful! – Tim Mar 20 at 12:11

We use those curved lines in music for three different purposes:

  1. Extending duration (ties) - the notes involved must be the same pitch, and only two notes can be joined by a tie. If you want a duration that requires three notes to indicate, you need two ties, one for notes 1-2 and another for notes 2-3.

  2. Indicating an articulation (slur) - for those instruments that can change pitch without a new attack (e.g. a clarinet changing fingering without tonguing) it means using a single attack produced both pitches. For instruments that require a new attack for each note, like the piano, it's an indication that the sounds should be connected as smoothly as possible.

  3. Indicating a phrase ("legato line" or "phrase mark"). This is a little fuzzier... it indicates a smooth connection of the notes, saying they should be played in a legato manner - hence "legato line". It generally extends over a musical phrase - hence the term "phrase mark". Because there are two different interpretations, some composers have created additional symbols (like a dashed line to indicate a phrase that is not legato). Unlike the tie and slur, a single legato line or phrase mark connects more than two notes.

  • There's another use: to denote text underlay in vocal music, by indicating which notes belong to a given syllable. Many people misinterpret such marks as indicating an articulation. – phoog Mar 20 at 17:48

Some people will tell you that slurs connecting the same pitch are actually ties and do not warrant sounding the same note again. That is, of course, wrong. If there is any length-indicating articulatory mark on the first note (like a tenuto bar or a staccato dot), obviously the note has to be sounded differently. But there are also other cases, like the following extract from the Ciaconna of Bach's solo violin Partita 2 (this is in 3/4 time, execution a double stop on both G and D string followed by alternating uses of open A string and fingered D string):Bach Ciaconna (Urtext). Here it is glaringly obvious that the notes connected with a slur and with the same pitch cannot possibly be intended as ties since they are spread across two different strings (and thus have to be sounded twice) and since playing them as ties would be completely out of character for the passage.

Even when playing this on the piano, you would most certainly sound the respective notes twice. So you should always look for all available clues before making the tie/slur decision. It is not as easy as "same pitch -> tie".

  • There's something wrong there: I count seven up-flag notes and six down-flag. What do violinists here interpret that as? Are the first 2 up-flag notes supposed to be 32nd notes and the publisher goofed? Because if so, the down-up tied pair just indicates playing unison double-stop, and a pianist would re-strike only because the upper line re-attacks the note. – Carl Witthoft Mar 20 at 14:55
  • Ultimately, I fear you are confusing (slurs and ties) with phrasing marks . – Carl Witthoft Mar 20 at 14:55
  • @CarlWitthoft As a violist... this line is completely illegible. I think maybe the publisher was trying to avoid stacking notes, but the result is impossible to decipher. – chrylis Mar 20 at 16:27
  • Biggest clue here is that it's written in two voices. However badly. – Tim Mar 20 at 16:50
  • @CarlWitthoft there are twelve 16th notes distributed across two voices (without rests). The first is a double stop, which is why there are seven up flags. In this case the slurs indicate bowing: notes under a single slur are to be played with one stroke of the bow. So there are three downbows and three upbows in the measure. – phoog Mar 20 at 18:10

Those are double slurs used for joining chords. Ties would not have the same amount of curvature, and if you had different behavior intended for moving and staying notes, you'd use separate stems to indicate separate voicing. Of course, differences are subtle and it depends on who engraved those notes: it is pretty common for people using notation programs to use slurs for everything, so the differences are hard to rely upon. Here is some LilyPond code and output:

\version "2.19.82"

global =
{ \key f \major
  \omit \time 4/4

<< { \global <>^"Slurs" <g' b' d''>2^(_( <g' c''>4) r4
     <>^"Ties" <g' b' d''>2^(_~ <g' c''>4) r4
     <>^"Voiced Ties" << { <b' d''>2( c''4) } \\ { g'2~ g'4 } >> r4
     <>^"Full voicing" << { <b' d''>2( c''4) } \\ { g'2. } >> r4 }
     { \global \clef "bass" <c' f'>2^(_( <c' e'>4) r4
       <c' f'>2^(_~ <c' e'>4) r4
       << { f'2( e'4) } \\ { c'2~4 } >> r4
       << { f'2( e'4) } \\ { c'2. } >> r4 }

LilyPond results

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    The difference has nothing to do with the amount of curvature. The only thing that matters is the pitch of the notes. You cannot "slur" to the same pitch. – Tom Serb Mar 20 at 11:22
  • @TomSerb - look carefully, there is a slight difference between the curves. However, that's in the printing to join the dots, so to speak. Nothing really to do with slurs and ties really. – Tim Mar 20 at 11:29
  • @Tim - curvature has nothing to do with whether it is a tie or a slur. The curvature will be different for different durations or interval sizes (because the notes are farther apart horizontally or vertically). The goal of the copyist is to make the music as clear as possible, which requires flexibility in the curvature. – Tom Serb Mar 20 at 11:39
  • @TomSerb - you're correct, of course. It's just a fact that for the same space between any two dots, a slur will be slightly more curved than a tie. Probably due to the engraving process. But it's hardly a deciding factor. – Tim Mar 20 at 11:44
  • Thanks guys. I’m only a beginner, I still not really sure after reading your answers. The G on the treble clef and C on the bass clef, are they connected with a tie or a slur? – Shelley Lee Mar 20 at 12:00

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