A Friendly Fermata Definition

It can be tricky trying to find a good fermata definition

In fact, many terms in music can have vague meanings, hard to understand definitions, or even worse, contain several different meanings for the same term.

Let’s take a look at how we can define this right now…

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Define Fermata

A fermata is a symbol placed over a note or rest telling us to hold it longer than its normal duration.  Some people say it looks like a little “birds-eye”…

fermata definition

Just as an example, a fermata placed over a quarter note means that you would hold the note longer than 1 count.

fermata definition

In this case, a fermata located over a whole rest tells you to pause, allowing silence for longer than 4 counts (or however many counts are in the time signature).

It can also be placed over a bar line or double bar line to indicate the end of a phrase or section.

Fermata Definition

Many times, a fermata is also called a pause or hold since that is exactly what you do when you see one.

How Long Do You Hold a Note With a Fermata?

This is really up to the individual or, in large ensemble groups, the conductor.

A conductor will keep their hands out (or baton moving) indicating to hold the note until they give a grand cut-off signal telling all performers exactly when to release the note together.

In several places, I have read that a note with a fermata over it should be held “approximately twice the normal duration”. 

Again, there is no exact science to this and should be based more on your own musical experience.

With much practice, you will have a better idea as to how long each note should be held.


Right now, it is good for you to know what this symbol means and what to do when you see one. Don’t get too caught up on knowing how to handle fermatas perfectly right now.

Just keep a good fermata definition handy as a reference and keep pressing on in your learning.

In time, you will gain enough musical experience to know how to handle each fermata as they appear.

In fact, they probably won’t even show up in your music until you reach an intermediate to advanced level of playing.

When you reach that point, listening to a lot of music will help you decide what to do with each one.

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1 thought on “A Friendly Fermata Definition”

  1. Hi Teresa,

    Thanks for your clear explanation and those helpful examples below each type of fermata.
    I could now understand the symbol. Cheers…

    Best Regards,
    S. Lye Teo

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