Can someone help me understand what the circled notation is instructing in this simple piece by Markham Lee? Are the notes tied? I'm confused as how they can be tied and staccato at the same time. Markham Lee

3 Answers 3


The notes are not tied. This is relatively conventional notation for portato, which is rather like a "sticky" staccato with longer but still detached notes.

  • Ah thank you very much! Learnt something new today :) Jan 18, 2020 at 13:55
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    Strange that the treble notes aren't portato as well?
    – Tim
    Jan 18, 2020 at 14:22
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    @Tim Perhaps because the treble pitch changes? That doesn't completely answer it, but that may have been the logic.
    – Richard
    Jan 18, 2020 at 15:16
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    @Richard - possibly, but the fermata effect is more a sort of volume change, pulsing thing, rather than referencing musical pitches, where here it's almost a sus, hence the question.
    – Tim
    Jan 18, 2020 at 15:47
  • @Tim The composer is indicating that he wants the treble notes to sound long and legato, and the bass notes to sound as a soft staccato, shorter than the treble notes, but still sounding, given the fermata. It is a nice effect. It matches the diminuendo just before and the pp afterwards.
    – Andre
    Jan 18, 2020 at 20:58

Although not all engravers make the distinction, it is common to place ties and slurs differently. A tie should be placed between the note heads, while slurs should be placed conspicuously above or below them. In this case, the curved marking is quite conspiciously above the note heads, implying that it is a slur even though the pitch doesn't change.

Additionally, as Todd Wilcox notes, when multiple notes are being tied simultaneously, there should be a separate tie marking for each one.

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    Also a tie for a chord should be a curve for each note of the chord - in this case two. Oct 10, 2023 at 14:29
  • @ToddWilcox: That is definitely generally true, and I've added it to my answer. I'm curious whether the rule is always true, or whether there might be exceptions if e.g. a keyboard piece has the outer two notes of an initially-suspended chord sustained for multiple bars, while the inner voice changes on beat 4 of one of the earlier bars. Would one draw the ties through the stem of the changing note, or put a small gap in the tie for the step, or draw an ending-half-tie at the start of the continuation of the outer note that would have collided, or what?
    – supercat
    Oct 10, 2023 at 15:01

Slurred and staccato rather than tied and staccatto. It's called 'portato'. Makes sense for stringed instruments where a slur indicates continuous bow movement. A little paradoxical on piano, I agree! And further complicated by the fermatas. Think 'sticky staccato'. And think of the fermata as 'pause the count' rather than 'prolong the note'.

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