Bar (music)

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Types of bar lines Barlines.svg
Types of bar lines
Fifteen-bar multirest 15 bars multirest.png
Fifteen-bar multirest

In musical notation, a bar (or measure) is a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value and the boundaries of the bar are indicated by vertical bar lines. Dividing music into bars provides regular reference points to pinpoint locations within a musical composition. It also makes written music easier to follow, since each bar of staff symbols can be read and played as a batch. [1]


Typically, a piece consists of several bars of the same length, and in modern musical notation the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the time signature. In simple time, (such as 3
), the top figure indicates the number of beats per bar, while the bottom number indicates the note value of the beat (the beat has a quarter note value in the 3

The word bar is more common in British English, and the word measure is more common in American English, although musicians generally understand both usages. The twelve-bar blues, however, is always "twelve-bar blues". In American English, although the words bar and measure are often used interchangeably, the correct use of the word bar refers only to the vertical line itself, while the word measure refers to the beats contained between bars. [2] In international usage, it is equally correct to speak of bar numbers and measure numbers, e.g. "bars 9–16" or "mm. 9–16". Along the same lines, it is usually recommended[ citation needed ] to reserve the abbreviated form "bb. 3–4" etc. for beats only; bars should be referred to by name in full.

The first metrically complete bar within a piece of music is called "bar 1" or "m. 1". When the piece begins with an anacrusis (an incomplete bar at the head of a piece of music), "bar 1" or "m. 1" is the following bar.


Originally, the word bar came from the vertical lines drawn through the staff to mark off metrical units and not the bar-like (i.e., rectangular) dimensions of a typical measure of music. In British English, these vertical lines are called bar, too, but often the term bar line is used in order to make the distinction clear. A double bar line (or double bar) can consist of two single bar lines drawn close together, separating two sections within a piece, or a bar line followed by a thicker bar line, indicating the end of a piece or movement. Note that double bar refers not to a type of bar (i.e., measure), but to a type of bar line. Another term for the bar line denoting the end of a piece of music is music end. [3]

A repeat sign (or, repeat bar line [4] ) looks like the music end, but it has two dots, one above the other, indicating that the section of music that is before is to be repeated. The beginning of the repeated passage can be marked by a begin-repeat sign; if this is absent the repeat is understood to be from the beginning of the piece or movement. This begin-repeat sign, if appearing at the beginning of a staff, does not act as a bar line because no bar is before it; its only function is to indicate the beginning of the passage to be repeated.

In music with a regular meter, bars function to indicate a periodic accent in the music, regardless of its duration. In music employing mixed meters, bar lines are instead used to indicate the beginning of rhythmic note groups, but this is subject to wide variation: some composers use dashed bar lines, others (including Hugo Distler) have placed bar lines at different places in the different parts to indicate varied groupings from part to part.

Igor Stravinsky said of bar lines:

The bar line is much, much more than a mere accent, and I don't believe that it can be simulated by an accent, at least not in my music. [5]

Bars and bar lines also indicate grouping: rhythmically of beats within and between bars, within and between phrases, and on higher levels such as meter.


The earliest barlines, used in keyboard and vihuela music in the 15th and 16th centuries, didn't reflect a regular meter at all but were only section divisions, or in some cases marked off every beat.

Barlines began to be introduced into ensemble music in the late 16th century but continued to be used irregularly for a time. Not until the mid-17th century were barlines used in the modern style with every measure being the same length, and they began to be associated with time signatures. [6]

Modern editions of early music that was originally notated without barlines sometimes use a mensurstrich as a compromise.


Hypermeter: 4 beat measure, 4 measure hypermeasure, and 4 hypermeasure verses. Hyperbeats in red. Hypermeter.png
Hypermeter: 4 beat measure, 4 measure hypermeasure, and 4 hypermeasure verses. Hyperbeats in red.

A hypermeasure, large-scale or high-level measure, or measure-group is a metric unit in which, generally, each regular measure is one beat (actually hyperbeat) of a larger meter. Thus a beat is to a measure as a measure/hyperbeat is to a hypermeasure. Hypermeasures must be larger than a notated bar, perceived as a unit, consist of a pattern of strong and weak beats, and along with adjacent hypermeasures, which must be of the same length, create a sense of hypermeter. The term was coined by Edward T. Cone in Musical Form and Musical Performance (New York: Norton, 1968), [7] and is similar to the less formal notion of a phrase.

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Key signature Set of musical alterations

In Western musical notation, a key signature is a set of sharp, flat, or rarely, natural symbols placed on the staff at the beginning of a section of music. The initial key signature in a piece is placed immediately after the clef at the beginning of the first line. If the piece contains a section in a different key, the new key signature is placed at the beginning of that section.

Musical notation Graphic writing of musical parameters

Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music played with instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols, including notation for durations of absence of sound such as rests.

The time signature is a notational convention used in Western musical notation to specify how many beats (pulses) are contained in each measure (bar), and which note value is equivalent to a beat.

In music, an accidental is a note of a pitch that is not a member of the scale or mode indicated by the most recently applied key signature. In musical notation, the sharp, flat, and natural symbols, among others, mark such notes—and those symbols are also called accidentals.

Metre (music) Aspect of music

In music, metre or meter refers to regularly recurring patterns and accents such as bars and beats. Unlike rhythm, metric onsets are not necessarily sounded, but are nevertheless implied by the performer and expected by the listener.

Caesura Pause or break in poetry or music

A caesura, also written cæsura and cesura, is a metrical pause or break in a verse where one phrase ends and another phrase begins. It may be expressed by a comma (,), a tick (), or two lines, either slashed (//) or upright (||). In time value, this break may vary between the slightest perception of silence all the way up to a full pause.

In poetic and musical meter, and by analogy in publishing, an anacrusis is a brief introduction.

In music, the terms additive and divisive are used to distinguish two types of both rhythm and meter:

A rest is a musical notation sign that indicates the absence of a sound.

Braille music Braille form of musical notation

Braille music is a braille code that allows music to be notated using braille cells so music can be read by visually impaired musicians. The system was incepted by Louis Braille.

In music, an accent is an emphasis, stress, or stronger attack placed on a particular note or set of notes, or chord, either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark. Accents contribute to the articulation and prosody of a performance of a musical phrase. Accents may be written into a score or part by a composer or added by the performer as part of his or her interpretation of a musical piece.

The numbered musical notation, is a cipher notation system used in China, and to some extent in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and English-speaking Canada. It dates back to the system designed by Pierre Galin, known as Galin-Paris-Chevé system. It is also known as Ziffernsystem, meaning "number system" or "cipher system" in German.

<i>Alla breve</i> Time signature in Western music notation

Alla breve[alla ˈbrɛːve] – also known as cut time or cut common time – is a musical meter notated by the time signature symbol , which is the equivalent of 2
. The term is Italian for "on the breve", originally meaning that the beat was counted on the breve.

Tempo rubato is a musical term referring to expressive and rhythmic freedom by a slight speeding up and then slowing down of the tempo of a piece at the discretion of the soloist or the conductor. Rubato is an expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing.

Mensural notation Musical notation system used for Renaissance vocal polyphony

Mensural notation is the musical notation system used for European vocal polyphonic music from the later part of the 13th century until about 1600. The term "mensural" refers to the ability of this system to describe precisely measured rhythmic durations in terms of numerical proportions between note values. Its modern name is inspired by the terminology of medieval theorists, who used terms like musica mensurata or cantus mensurabilis to refer to the rhythmically defined polyphonic music of their age, as opposed to musica plana or musica choralis, i.e., Gregorian plainchant. Mensural notation was employed principally for compositions in the tradition of vocal polyphony, whereas plainchant retained its own, older system of neume notation throughout the period. Besides these, some purely instrumental music could be written in various forms of instrument-specific tablature notation.

In music, a repeat sign is a sign that indicates a section should be repeated. If the piece has one repeat sign alone, then that means to repeat from the beginning, and then continue on. A corresponding sign facing the other way indicates where the repeat is to begin. These are similar to the instructions da capo and dal segno.

Repeat. Wiederholungszeichen (Ger.) A sign that a movement or part of a movement is to be twice performed. That which is to be repeated is generally included within the sign of two or four dots in the spaces...When the performer does not, on repeating, go so far as the last dot-sign, but finishes at a previous cadence, it is usual to write over the repeat, Da Capo, placing a pause and fine over the chord at which the performer is to stop. If the signs of the repeat do not coincide with a well-defined portion of a movement the sign 𝄋 is sometimes added.

Tonic sol-fa Music teaching method

Tonic sol-fa is a pedagogical technique for teaching sight-singing, invented by Sarah Ann Glover (1785–1867) of Norwich, England and popularised by John Curwen, who adapted it from a number of earlier musical systems. It uses a system of musical notation based on movable do solfège, whereby every note is given a name according to its relationship with other notes in the key: the usual staff notation is replaced with anglicized solfège syllables or their abbreviations. "Do" is chosen to be the tonic of whatever key is being used. The original solfège sequence started with "Ut", the first syllable of the hymn Ut queant laxis, which later became "Do".

Percussion notation is a type of musical notation indicating notes to be played by percussion instruments. As with other forms of musical notation, sounds are represented by symbols which are usually written onto a musical staff.

Distant Memories is the third piece from Alexina Louie's Music for Piano. It was commissioned by the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects in 1982. This piece features the changing meters and "senza misura", meaning "without measure". The other pieces in this songbook are "Changes", "The Enchanted Bells", and "Once Upon a Time". The four short solo piano pieces explore contemporary musical concepts and techniques while remaining accessible to younger students. As this was her first set of compositions for solo piano, it is fitting that Louie dedicated the pieces to her former childhood piano teacher and mentor Jean Lyons.


  1. ChordWizard Software. "". Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  2. Read, Gardner. (1979) Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, 2nd ed., New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, p.183.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-01-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) − Chart of Musical Symbols
  4. Nickol, Peter (2008). Learning to Read Music, p.105. ISBN   1-84528-278-7.
  5. Winold, Allen (1975). "Rhythm in Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice–Hall. ISBN   0-13-049346-5.
  6. Harvard Dictionary of Music, Second ed. (1972), "Barline"
  7. Stein, Deborah (2005). Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis, p.18-19 and "Glossary", p.329. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-517010-5.

Further reading