In music theory, a tie is a small, curved line which connects two notes of exactly the same pitch. The time values of tied notes are added together to make a longer note – you only play the note once.

Be careful not to confuse ties and slurs! A tie looks exactly like a slur – but a slur connects two notes of a different pitch and tells the player to play the two notes smoothly. The first example shows two tied Fs, the second example shows an F slurred to a G.

tie or slur

Why Ties?

Ties are used for three reasons.

1. When a note has to be held across a bar line.

tie across bar line

2. When the length of the note is difficult/impossible to express with a single note value. Here, the A is worth a count of 2 and a quarter beats.

tie for irregular note length

3. To allow the beat to be clearly seen.

In 4/4 for example, the third beat (which is the secondary strong beat) should be easy to spot. Bar 1 is correct – by tying two quavers (8th notes), we can see where the third beat starts. Bar 2 uses the same overall note values, but it is difficult to see at first glance where the second strong beat of the bar is.

ties to show beats

Positioning Ties

Ties are usually written on the opposite side of a musical note to its stem. In the examples that we just looked at, the F’s have their stems down, so the tie is placed above the notes. The As are stems up, so the tie is drawn below the notes.

Ties and Accidentals

An accidental placed on the first of two tied notes also applies to the second tied note, even if the two notes are separated by a bar line.

ties with accidentals

The first note in bar 2 is also a G sharp.

Sometimes you might see an accidental in brackets on the second note. This is called a “courtesy” accidental – it’s only there to make it clear what the note is supposed to be. 

Ties and Beams

We don’t normally combine ties and beams on the same notes. Break the beam over two tied notes. Bar 1 is correct: the beam is broken so that the second tied note starts a new beamed group. Bar 2 is incorrect.

ties and beams

Ties Exercises

Hover your mouse over the stave or light bulb icon to reveal the answers (tap on mobile devices)

1. What effect does a tie have? 

2. How can you tell the difference between a tie and a slur?

3. When should a tie be written above a note, and when below? 

4. For each pair of notes, say if there is a tie or a slur.

ties-or-slurs 0 0 ties-or-slurs 0 1 ties-or-slurs 0 2 ties-or-slurs 0 3 ties-or-slurs 0 4