What’s The Difference Between Ties And Slurs?

Do you know the difference between ties and slurs? This is something I have noticed a lot people find confusing. 

They do look similar, but there are some clear differences.  We’re going to explore what those differences are right now.

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A tie connects two or more notes of the same pitch together with a curved line over or under the notes. 

The rhythms are then added together. The value of the second note, or tied note, is added to the value of the first note.

Can there be several notes tied together? Yes, you can find multiple notes tied together.  This makes for a really long time to hold one note.

Ties are always written on the opposite side of the note stems. They are drawn connecting the note heads, not the stems. 

So, if the stems are mostly facing down, the tie is written above the notes.  If the stems are mostly going up, the tie can be found below the notes.

How To Play Ties

To play or sing ties, you sound the first note and hold it for the length of both notes without replaying the second note.

For example, this tied note is held for a total of 6 counts. The whole note equals 4 counts plus the 2 counts of the half note.

ties and slurs

However, you don’t want to count “1-2-3-4-5-6”. You will get lost as to what beat you are on.  Instead, count “1-2-3-4, 1-2”. 

Make sure you are keeping track of every beat going by, regardless of how the notes are connected.


A slur connects two or more notes of different pitches together by a curved line over or under the notes. 

When you hear notes that are slurred, there is a connection of sound.  No break or silence is heard between the pitches.

The term legato is used to describe how you play or sing slurred notes.  Literally, it means “to unite or bind”. 

To put it in simpler terms, it means a smooth connection from one note to the next.

Here’s an example of notes with slurs:

ties and slurs

When you see the majority of the stems going in the same direction, a slur is written on the opposite side of the stems. 

In other words, slurs are always written right above or below the note head, depending on the direction of the stems. 

Usually, when you see a good mix in stem direction, the slur is written above the notes.

How To Play Slurs

If you play a wind instrument, only the first note of the slurred grouping is tongued. After tonguing the first note, keep the air moving leaving no break in sound between the notes. 

Also, do not breathe in between the notes with slurs.

On string instruments, a slur means to play a group of notes with one long bowing.

For piano players, slurs tell us when to lift the hands.

Differences in Use

Ties are thought of as a part of rhythm in music. They have more to do with note values or how long you hold a note. 

Slurs are more along the lines of articulation or how you play a note. Do you play it short, long, connected, accented, etc.? 

In the case of slurs, you play using a connection of sound called legato playing.  This is slightly different on each instrument.

ties and slurs

While ties and slurs can be confusing, we’ve found some real differences that are worth remembering. 

My hope is that now you will know the difference between these two markings and know exactly what to do when you see them.

Just keep in mind that ties hold while slurs are smooth. Ties use the same notes while slurs connect different notes together.

There you go. The tie and slur mystery is finally solved!

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19 thoughts on “What’s The Difference Between Ties And Slurs?”

  1. Would like to know this problem with ties and slurs. Now just say you have a C note connected with another C note but in between there are other notes. Is the considered a tie. eg. C,DE G C. The tie/slur is connecting both C. Do you hold down the first C while the DE and G are played. Or is this considered a slur. This is what I find a little confusing. I fully understand the concept of ties and slurs but in this scenario I’m a little confused. Hope you can help.

  2. Hi Sharon – If the notes with a curved line over them are all different notes (C-D-E-F-G), then it is a slur. With a slur, you do not continue to play the note any longer than it’s written value. On the piano, you press down the key (for the first note) and do not release that key until you press down the next key (for the next note). This is a technique in playing where you try to connect the notes with your fingers as much as possible by releasing the key at the same time as pressing down the next key. The result is a smooth connected sound between the notes with no breaks or silence heard in between.

  3. I got this but now this is where I’m having a problem. You have notes C, D, E C. There is a curved line going from the C note to the next C note. Now do you play on the piano those keys in between while holding down the first C. Eg. Hold first C until the other notes D & E are played and released. Then you finally release the last C where you were holding it first. Hope this isn’t too confusing. I always thought that this would be a tie?????? Now if we had C, D, E G with a curved line then this would be considered a slur.

  4. I think I understand what you’re saying now. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re talking about without seeing the music. It sounds like the C’s are tied and there is probably a slur over all the notes. So, you would hold the tied C and play the rest of the slurred notes smoothly. It is very common to have both slurs and ties in combination with the same notes.

  5. Dear Teresa
    In the Joseph Fiala’s Divertimento in D for Bb Trumpet and Piano there are some slurs with a small forward slash approximately at their midpoint, please can you explain their meaning. Thank you in anticipation.

  6. Hi Edmond, I believe this is an editorial marking where the editor actually disagrees with the composer’s original notation and suggests to not a play a slur there. It is a performance suggestion and ultimately it is up to you to decide what is best.

  7. Appreciate the article.

    Correct me if im wrong, but i get the impression that with a tie under two notes, you would not play/pick/strum that second note, just hold throughout that note.

    However, what if you want the hold throughout, but also the pick/strum on that note. I suppose you could just remove the tie, but then that would imply the first note in the tie stops before the second, which is not the intended effect.

    Hope this makes sense.

    Thanks, john

  8. If you want both notes played, you remove the tie. The rhythm itself will tell you how long to hold the note before playing the next note.

  9. Hello,

    I was wondering; say one note is to be held for multiple measures, and only the same notes are between. Does each note have to be tied together, or can this simply be notated as a tie between the first and last note?

  10. How can you get a song published? I sent a song into a composition contest and won second place out of 150-200 original songs; the number of contestants is an appropriate guess. Is it a possibility that I can send it to you? Thank you.

  11. I’m looking at a score in which there is no key signature, but there are occasional sharps. I have learned that when an accidental appears on a note, that accidental applies for the rest of the measure but not in following measures. In this case, in one measure there is a C#. In the next measure there is a C on the same line. The two are connected by a curved line.

    So there are two different tones, right? And the curved line is a slur, not tie?

    Thanks for your help!

  12. What you are describing is a tie. The C# accidental will carry through to the note it is tied to “C”. If the “C” following the C# is really meant to be played as a “C”, then a natural sign is typically included to clear up any confusion by most publishers.

  13. Teresa- Hi- Alan from Newport, RI
    With regard to legato slurs: if the composer wants legato played and to carry on and continue to the next row of bars below,
    Will the slur go outside the last bar into the margin and beneath go in from the margin
    Into the new row of bars????

  14. This is a little tricky to answer without seeing your music. All slurs can carry on over several measures and even lines of music. The slur is typically placed on the same side as the noteheads of music notes for easier reading.

  15. Lonnie Schneider

    Hi Teresa, thank you for preparing this article, its much appreciated!

    I am trying to understand a slur on guitar when the notes are on the same string. My example is, C on the 8th fret first string …slur to the A on the 5th fret first string. Do you play both notes?

    Its hard to understand how these would sound different if the slur weren’t present. Like if they were just 8th notes

    Thank you for your comments!

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