Distinction between ties and slurs

• Feb 7, 2022 - 08:27


MuseScore, like most other score editors if not all, makes a distinction between slurs and ties between to occurrences of the same note. As far as I know, this distinction doesn't exist in written music. Is there a reason for this? The main drawback of this approach is that when repitching a part, it is common that a tie in the original part (let's say alto sax in a big band score) corresponds to a slur in the second one (let's say tenor sax) because the alto sax plays the same note when tenor plays two different notes. When repitching, this implies backing to the second not (which has changed automatically to preserve the tie) and entering the new note, which breaks the tie. It would be better if the tie was then automatically transformed into a slur.

This is surely not a big deal, but as I have 400 big band scores to enter, it adds up!


But there is a distinction between the two in written music. That's why you know there are two different terms. The tie gets broken and not changed into a slur because software has no idea if you want a slur there or not.

In reply to by bobjp

How are the odds that 2 adjecent notes of the same pitch connected with a tie are really supposed to be conected by a slur? Almost nil I'd guess.
My guess is that in 99% of the case a tie is meant, so MuseScore could well automatically turn a slur that connects 2 adjacent notes of the same pitch into a tie (at least as far as playback is concerned).
A slur that connects more than 2 notes, or 2 notes but more than one pitch though is a slur, in 100% of the cases

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Exactly. When playing music, it's impossible to make a difference. But when writing music, if we are writing parts by copying one and changing only the pitches, it's common to change a slur into a tie (when replacing two notes of different pitches with two notes with the same pitch, and conversely changing a slur into a tie when changing from two notes of different pitches to two notes of the same pitch. This can be achieved by using only slurs in all cases. There would be no problem for musicians playing the music, and probably none for midi playback, but we would lose the fact that MuseScore is able to repitch two tied notes in a single operation. I think it would be easier, though. I will try that for my next score. (I do Big Band scores and the problem happens all the time.)

To be clear: written music absolutely honors this same distinction. It's an unfortunate quirk of history that the two symbols look similar enough to be easily mistaken for each other on first glance, and it's that much more unfortunate that it leads people to not understand the actual musical difference. But the meaning of the symbols is entirely different, and the appearance is, well, "subtly" different. I don't really see any good reason for automatically converting one to another; surely the vast majority of the time, if one changes pitches of notes, one wishes to preserve the tie/slur status.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

While I understand where you're coming from, given your usage of the note entry modes, I don't agree with the tie-to-slur conversion assessment.

Especially during repitch MuseScore should not alter note durations, whether those happen to have been written as a single duration (for example a dotted 1/4th note) or as a tied duration (a 1/4th tied to a 1/8th). For all musical intent, that note is a single note. And as such (again, my personal opinion) repitch should treat it as such.
If one of the tied notes is repitched, all of them should be. And the next input position should be the next note after the ties in my view.

In reply to by jeetee

When two notes are tied and you change the pitch of one, would it hurt anyone to have the option of automatically converting the tie to a slur? I really can’t see how that could hurt anyone. It’s weird that some people want to do things without forcing anyone to do the same, while others argue that it should be forbidden to everyone.

In reply to by peewhy

It’s not that having such an option would hurt anyone, except: it’s an option that takes work to implement in order to solve a problem that thus far in the eleven years MuseScore has been a product, has only been reported once. If we added features every time one single user requested them, the interface would be littered with hundreds of new options, each added for one user only. Which does make the program harder to use for everyone, not to mention, taking development time away from features that would be of us to many.

So in general, it’s very important to establish whether a feature really is needed by a majority - or at least a very sizable minority - of users, before it makes sense to consider it.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I agree, But this would certainly have been a more productive first answer. If I had the choice between having this feature implemented and having existing bugs fixed, I would not hesitate. Unfortunately, I guess I will have neither anytime soon. Not a big problem, MuseScore is still the best notation program I have used until now.

This said, there is probably a better way to handle the problem, which is to examine the score (in my case, it is an existing paper score) And see which "links" between notes of the same pitch are slurs and which are ties. I will try this kind of pre-planning on my next score. That might solve the problem.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

All links between notes of the same pitch should be assumed to be ties. Slurs between notes of the same pitch are incredibly rare, because they make little sense - it's usually very difficult to play two notes of the same pitch without re-articulating them - the exact opposite of a slur.

As for why I didn't point out that not all features can or should be implemented, I apologize - I have been in this world so long, I think of that as obvious, even though I realize it isn't to everyone. So I skipped that introductory background and went straight into discussion of whether or not the feature likely would be relevant to most people, without explaining why that mattered. Sorry for that!

In reply to by bobjp

This is the right answer to the wrong problem because the question is about the fact that both ties and slurs between two notes of the same pitch are represented the same on the score. They will probably both be interpreted the same by a musician reading the score, as a tie, although if it is a slur, it would mean that the first not should have its full length, but the second should still be attacked. So the problem is about how to distinguish them in order to enter them correctly so that repitching would give the intended result.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Good to know, although I would have trouble to say which is which without seeing both side by side. But This doesn't help me much because this difference is specific to MuseScore. My problem is to recognize them on the paper score I have to reproduce. But thanks you for your assistance (and Marc's). It eventually helped me to figure out a strategy to handle the problem.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

No, that's not just in MuseScore. It's how music notation works in general - all professional editors would make a similar distinction in appearance. Some might also use slightly different thicknesses, or making ties somewhat flatter, or moving the ends closer to the notehead, or other differences. But all of these differences are for the same logical reasons. Ties are always exactly two notes, whereas slurs can encompass many notes, and you very often have ties inside of slurs. So things need to be notated in a way that can allow ties to fit within slurs, even when starting or ending on the same note.

Combined with the fact that, as mentioned, slurs between notes of the same pitch are all but nonexistent, you should quickly realize there are incredibly few cases where there would normally be any ambiguity at all. Two notes of same pitch = tie, anything else (two notes of different pitch, or more than two notes) = slur.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

As mentioned, slurs between notes of the same pitch are incredibly rare and barely worth worrying about. but in the few cases where they come up, the approach to playing them differents from instrument to instrument.

On a wind instrument, you have two choices. One is to use a "breath accent" rather than the tongue to rearticulate the note. The other is to find and use two different fingerings for the note. In the rare cases where I've seen music call for this, it usually notates this specifically, by adding an accent mark on the second note to suggest the first interpretation, or a text note indicating the desired fingerings to suggest the second.

On bowed stringed instruments, you can similarly use the bow to give the same effect as a breath accent - just a slight extra push of the bow without changing direction, or you can play the note on two different strings.

On guitar, I suppose you could finger the note twice but not only pluck it once on a given string. On piano it's nonsensical; you simply can't play two consecutive notes of the same pitch any more smoothly than the action of the piano allows.

Anyhow, if you're looking at 400 big band scores, I predict the only examples you see of this will be marked with explicit articulations under the slur, such as to notate a brass doo-wah effect. In that case, the presence of the articulation is the dead giveaway that this is not a tie. All others instances of a curved line connecting two notes of the same pitch rate ties. And you'll probably find 1,000 ties for each same-pitch slur.

Actually, while I understand the use case you are describing, I would question how common that actually is, compared to cases where a) the note is actually tied in both parts, b) there is no articulation marked in the non-tied part so the tie would be replaced by nothing, or c) there is actually a larger slur over the entire passage in both parts, so the tie would replaced by nothing again

My guess is that case a) accounts for 90% of all uses of repitch on tied notes, and of the rest, c) accounts for 90% of what’s left. Case b) and your original example of the tie needing to be replaced by a slur probably account less and 1% each of all uses of repitch in tied notes. But it would be interesting to see some actual examples and numbers drawn from this experience! Who knows, if you end up showing that there really is a sizable percentage of the time that this happens, it certainly could be considered someday. But we’d definitely want to see the empirical evidence.

You wrote:
MuseScore, like most other score editors if not all, makes a distinction between slurs and ties between to occurrences of the same note. As far as I know, this distinction doesn't exist in written music.

OK, so Jojo's image of tie vs. slur posted here:
shows the "subtle" distinction, which admittedly is still a cause of confusion for some (perhaps many?).
In fact, there are scores posted to musescore.com which suffer from this -- i.e., when playing the score a note gets unexpectedly articulated twice (slur) instead of simply held (tie).

However, Jojo's example shows the score editor's (e.g., MuseScore) subtle distinction. You mention "written music" where "this distinction doesn't exist". Since you "do Big Band scores and the problem happens all the time", could you post an image of a few instances where this occurs in your existing paper score(s).
As you stated
...there is probably a better way to handle the problem, which is to examine the score (in my case, it is an existing paper score) And see which "links" between notes of the same pitch are slurs and which are ties.

So, show us a few instances of this issue in your written scores which lead you to want ties and slurs to interchange automatically in MuseScore.

In reply to by Brer Fox

Makes sense, not unlike the breath accent or “doo wah” for winds (performed with plunger mute or hand or other device over the bell). In your particular example, the fact that there are more than just two notes is also a dead giveaway that these are slurs, or course.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Here are examples from the score I am currently working on. Please note that this is the result. From it, it is easy to see that the links between similar notes are slurs and not ties. But the question is that this should be recognized prior to entering the parts. There is no paper full score to work form. Only parts and a conductor. We have then to examine four (trumpets and trombones) parts measure by measure to see whether the problem occurs. It occurs on average 4 to 7 times in each score. In this example, it happens that if the parts have been entered in order, A slur would have been chosen for the first one, which would be OK for repitching. But it happens frequently that the first part has identical notes and the others have different notes. All combinations are possible. Not a big deal for a single score, but when considering 400 of them, we have to choose the most practical tools and devise the right workflow in order to be able to teach the process to as many volunteers as possible.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

The context is repitching a voice to create the next voice. If a tie has been used in the first voice, the second note will change with the first. The left arrow will allow repitching the second, but it will brake the tie. It is then necessary to hit te left arrow twice to go back to the first note to create the slur. Any way to shorten this process, even by a single keystroke, is welcome.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

This seems t be a good solution if you don't need midi playback. Unfortunately, I need it (on reason to favor MuseScore is the (relative) quality of midi playback. What would totally solve the problem is to automatically replace all slurs between notes of the same pitch with ties. I don't know if is there is a (simple) way to do this. incidentally, what I miss the most with all notation programs is a way to automate tasks. Open source ones allow to modify the code and add some functionalities, but that is overkill. Macros would be ideal. Plugins might also be a solution. I will look at it. It might also help work around the bug in repitching chords.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

A couple of things occur to me. I'm not sure why you are using re-pitch mode. The results are the same if you select the first note you want to change. You have to use the arrows anyway.
If you have to go through these measure by measure anyway, perhaps select all ties and delete them, then add slurs after notes are correct. Works best if the troublesome ties are in the same part. Not as good as find and switch.

In reply to by bobjp

I am using a midi keyboard. Alternating between the midi keyboard to enter notes and the computer keyboard for the duration is inefficient. What I do is enter the rhythm first with all the extra information such as accents, sluts, ties, dynamics, and more. All these are 99% common to the five saxophone parts, or to the 4 trumpet or trombone parts. Then, I use repitch to change the note. The main benefit, here is that I don't have to use the arrow keys. I just play the note which causes it to replace the existing note and the next note is automatically selected. In other words, I am playing the melody rubato (which I can do although I couldn't do it in real-time. This alone is extremely more productive than any other way of inputting notes I have tried.

But even better, I can copy the rhythm (before or after repitch) to the other three or four parts. and repitch again. Using this in Musescore, I have been able to reduce the time needed for a complete Big Band score of 75 measures from three days (using Frescobaldi/lilypond) to one (five days with Finale).

This is only after having used MuseScore for less than a week (two years with Frescobaldi/Lilypond and twenty years with Finale). But I hope I can make the process even more efficient.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

FWIW, you don''t need to switch between MIDI and computer keyboard during entry - just use Edit / Preferences / Note Input to define MIDI keys to act as duration shortcuts. So that might help in entering the original rhythm. You'll still likely want to continue with repitch mode for altering the pitches of subsequent parts. I'm not sure it's faster than doing rhythm alone first, but it's something you might like to know. For that matter, you could use the MIDI keyboard in this was to enter the rhythm alone.

In reply to by Pierre-Yves Saumont

Actually, it's not at all clear that those are all slurs. As I have tried to make clear, slurs between notes of the same pitcher are extremely rare, and because it would be very hard for a player to understand they are meant to be slurs, they are normally accompanied by articulation marks on the second note to clarify.

But yes, this happens 4 timers in a score, fine 0- but how many ties stayed ties? Probably 400. That's why automatically changing ties to slurs on repitch would be an enormous mistake most of the time.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

There are two misunderstandings. The first is that the problem is not what it means in music, but to make creating scores as fast as possible. I showed four examples, which are not all there are in my score. Looking at several scores, I think the problem happens about 4 to 7 times in each. And this is to be multiplied by 400 (the number of scores to create).

The second misunderstanding is that 4 cases are not to be compared to 400 that would have to stay tied. We should only consider the case where the second note is manually modified. If two notes with identical pitches are slurred, repitching the first will not change the second, and repitching the second will not affect anything else than the pitch. The slur is preserved. If they are tied, repitching the first will automatically repitch the second. That's perfectly fine and shouldn't change.

Now, there is an additional case: the two notes are tied. We repitch the first one, which automatically repitches the second and advance the selection. Then we step back to the second note and repitch it. It is now different from the first one and the tie has been removed. In my use case, it would make sense to replace the tie with a slur instead of deleting it. Otherwise, I must hit the left arrow twice (switching from midi keyboard to computer keyboard), then the "s" key to create the slur, then the right arrow twice before going back to the midi keyboard.

But the main problem isn't to have a few keystrokes more, but to have to look at the screen to detect when it happens. To be more productive, one has to minimize the number of times their eyes leave the paper score to look at the screen. Not only does it take time to find the right measure on the paper (putting a finger on it before looking at the screen helps, but for this, a third hand would be needed), but it is error-prone because this kind of music is full of measures that repeat several times, and it's very easy to go back to the wrong measure.

Eventually, I think the most productive way to work around this problem is to use only slurs and then to change all slurs that occur between notes of the same pitch into ties (which is necessary for MIDI playback). Provided, of course, there is a way to do that automatically and not manually.

I like to bring this example up, though it could easily be chalked up to "editors of Rachmaninoff often follow him even into error", but this could be a way to, in the off chance you did in fact want a slur between two notes of identical pitch, to notate it:


Note that, at least having some people here look at it a few years back, we did conclude that this (odd) notation was in fact a tie and not a slur. Though perhaps the confusion that this piece's notation caused should indicate that using it as a stand-in for a slur between two notes of the same pitch is not recommended!

Perhaps having something written in would help as well, in those very off-chance cases.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.