I'm writing a choral piece in 12/8 where the basses have a dotted quarter C, tied to a dotted half, tied to a dotted quarter, and then slurred to a C# - all while on the same syllable. How should I configure the slurs and ties to best show this:

Like this?

Option 1

Or like this?

Option 2


  • 1. From which text is this syllable ye - - . I’m asking because I don’t understand why the slur ends om C#. 2. Why don’t you place the slur above the system? 3. Why writing in 12/8? 4/4 with some triplets would be much easier to read for all voices. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 5:37
  • The full word is "yeni," it continues onto the next page. It's from Tolkien's Namarie. The piece is full of triplets, so going into 4/4 isn't an option unfortunately. Here's a link to a version with the slur above the staff, this way's not too bad either.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 6:58
  • 2
    I think the clearest option would be a combination of phoog’s and Albrecht’s answers: slur starting on the first note, but not on the same side as the ties (so if you maintain the downwards ties, the slur should go above the system). This way the semantically different arcs are visually separated as well. (Not posting an answer since all this is already present in the existing answers.) The combination of multiple slurs or ties too close to each other with interference from the staff lines gets very hard to read very quickly. (For example, how many Ls are this: lllll?)
    – 11684
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 12:29
  • 1
    As the lyric is ye-ni I doubt that solution above the staff is correct. The phrasing in the middle of a word doesn’t seem good to me, not logically. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 13:20
  • An other point I’d like to know: is this your own melody composition or an arrangement of an existing tune? As I’ve been looking for the song I’ve found different composer’s sets to music of these lyrics outono.net/elentir/2018/02/19/… but any available song was in 12/8 time except one was in 6/8 musescore.com/user/9400101/scores/2171681. So I think 6/8 might also solve the problem of readability. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 14:41

6 Answers 6


The first solution is correct. The slur should start at the beginning of the first note under the slur.

The second solution is difficult to sight read. It seems ambiguous at first glance, and it is only with careful analysis that one realizes that it isn't.

I'll try to remember to edit this answer to cite some examples of this notation sometime in the next couple of days.


In such a situation you should set the slur above the system to make it better readable.

But there are other alternatives:

  • The slur could end on an other syllable in the next bar.
  • The time could be notated in 4/4 and with triplets: in this bar you’d have just a dotted half-note.


  • As you say below your question the slur is underlying the word ye-ni, what means long year. So I wouldn’t interrupt the phrasing of this word, as it would be 2 short years. (S. my comment above). The slur must end at the last note of the 2nd syllable of ye-ni to make sense.
  • My understanding was that I needed a slur there since there will be multiple notes sung under 1 syllable (like a melisma only just two notes). Here's an image that shows an example of this. It is an original composition, so going into 6/8 is an option. I kinda like the 12/8 style though - in most of the piece readability isn't an issue.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 17:20
  • I thought this is like a melisma, Thanks to you I've found the lyrics. Can we here your composition? By the way what we do in brass bands when the bass has a long phrase is assigning different points of phrasing for breathing. So you could as alternative of a slur set a breath comma to avoid this collision of ties/slur. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 17:38
  • Well, I'm in the middle of writing it right now. I usually compose directly in Musescore, that way I can hear the midi playback as I go. Us singers will stagger breathe in long phrases as well, although it's not usually written in the score (since each individual singer will try to breathe a different place from those around them). The dotted quarter in this piece is about 50 bpm, so it's not quite long enough to need that though.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 19:23

A tie simply gives the opportunity to make longer notes than are available, or need to go across a bar line.

A slur 'joins together' a series of notes, (which are usually not the same pitch), that would then be played 'all in one breath'.

Since what you show isn't even the full word, it might be better still to make the slur curve between the beginning and end syllables. However, if you only want the first part to be slurred, you're joining all the notes from the first utterance of 'y', not the end of it, so the second example isn't good anyway. The first is fine for as far as we can see, but bear in mind my earlier thought.


Certainly not the second example. The first is correct. Maybe putting the melisma (one syllable, several notes) slur on top would be clearer.


The first solution is most correct, although the slur could be placed above the note stems instead.

The second solution may appear to performers to be a typo, and interpretation of the composer's intent may be debated.

That aside, I'm wondering why you need to slur a note that's held across a single syllable. If a breath should be taken in the middle of the syllable after the C#, perhaps a breath mark would suffice better than ending a slur (assuming the note after the C# holds the same syllable). The end of a slur in the middle of a held syllable across notes may also be open up to interpretation by the performers as they won't know whether to take a breath or keep the syllable held as they normally would have. So for this instance I'd say don't use a slur or if anything use a breath mark where intended.


If more than two notes are tied together, there should be a separate tie connecting every note but the last to its successor. If more than two notes are slurred together, however, they should generally all use one slur unless layout considerations force them to be placed separately (e.g. if a slurred passage doesn't fit on one line).

Although not all engravers are consistent with this, it is useful to place ties between the notes being connected, while slurs should extend between points that are above and below the notes in question. If one makes ties and slurs visually distint in that manner, there will be no confusion about whether something is a tie or a slur.

Otherwise, if has a curved mark which connects a point above or below a note that has an accidental with a note on the same staff position in the next measure, it may be unclear whether it's a tie that extends the duration of a note that sustains the altered pitch, or a slur which connects an altered note in one measure with an unaltered note in the next. If ties are placed horizontally between notes, then ties and slurs would be recognizable as different.

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