I'm currently notating a song and don't know what's the correct way to write the ending of it.

The song has a pickup measure with a quarter note duration. Because of that, the correct way of finishing it would be to end the song on a measure with only 3 beats.

Sadly the last measure ends like shown in the picture (top example), where I have not enough beats left to compensate the pickup measure.

So my question is, what is the proper way to get around this? Would you just add a complete new measure with only 3 beats like the bottom example in the picture?

enter image description here

  • Maybe it shouldn't be a pickup, and the last chord should be on the downbeat.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 3:35

2 Answers 2


It doesn't matter how you end the piece. Centuries ago there was a convention that you compensated for the pickup measure at the end. But nowadays nobody is going to complain. I see pieces all the time notated with a pickup and a complete bar at the end.

Update: This is not a general rule. If a piece is written in such a way that repeating from the end to the beginning would make musical sense, the last measure should be of proper duration to allow for that. This is the case for a lot of folk or dance music that you can repeat endlessly. But this doesn't apply to the example given here, where a repeat to the beginning would be very awkward.

  • 4
    @Tim In music there's no such thing as "correct"
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 17:52
  • 2
    @Tim "wrankles" rankles.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 3:34
  • 2
    I'm not going to add another answer as yours already covers the main point (that there's no need to add the extra bar), but I'll offer an alternative perspective: if it annoys people that there's not a whole number of bars in the piece, the extra beats are technically at the front of the pickup bar, and IMO should be notated there with empty rests, rather than some horrible outdated hack with an incomplete floating measure at the end that makes no sense. Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 8:33
  • 2
    @MattTaylor Padding the first bar is often done, but in my experience putting silent beats at the beginning of the first bar very often causes confusion. Sight-reading a piece you can nearly always count on somebody coming in wrong. I think it's better practice to start the notation with the pickup and, very important, make sure that the parts that are not playing the pickup have the correct rests.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 10:20
  • 3
    @JiK: If a piece of music is written in such a way that repeating from the end to the beginning would make sense, the last measure should be of proper duration to allow for that. If the ending of the piece wouldn't make any sense looped back to the beginning, then there's no need to accommodate such a possibility.
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 13:31

Probably the acid test is to play it with a repeat - which I appreciate may well not be there. But by doing this, you'll feel that the rhythm of it all will fit better one way or the other. I suspect the second version is what you'll end up with. Looking at the complete work would give more clues, though.

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