List of musical symbols

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Musical symbols are marks and symbols in musical notation that indicate various aspects of how a piece of music is to be performed. There are symbols to communicate information about many musical elements, including pitch, duration, dynamics, or articulation of musical notes; tempo, metre, form (e.g., whether sections are repeated), and details about specific playing techniques (e.g., which fingers, keys, or pedals are to be used, whether a string instrument should be bowed or plucked, or whether the bow of a string instrument should move up or down).


Music-staff.svg Staff/Stave
The five-line staff (often "stave" in British usage) is used to indicate pitch. Each line or space indicates the pitch belonging to a note with a letter name: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Moving vertically upwards, the letter names proceed alphabetically with the alternating lines and spaces, and represent ascending pitches. The A-G pattern repeats—the note above "G" is another "A". A clef determines which specific pitches are assigned to the lines and spaces.
Music-ledger-edited.png Ledger or leger lines
These additional lines (and the spaces they form) indicate pitches above or below the staff. The diagram shows a single ledger line above and below the staff but multiple ledger lines can be used.
Music-bar.svg Bar line (or Barline)
Bar lines separate measures ("bars") of music according to the indicated time signature. They sometimes extend through multiple staves to group them together when a grand staff is used or when indicating groups of similar instruments in a conductor's score.
Music-doublebar.svg Double bar line
These indicate some change in the music, such as a new musical section, a new key signature, or a new time signature.
Music-endbar.svg Bold double bar line
These indicate the conclusion of a movement or of a composition.
Music-dottedbar.svg Dotted bar line
These can be used to subdivide measures of complex meter into shorter segments for ease of reading.
Staff-bracket.jpg Bracket
A bracket is used to connect two or more lines of music that sound simultaneously. In contemporary usage it usually connects staves of individual instruments (e.g., flute and clarinet; two trumpets; etc.) or multiple vocal parts, whereas the brace connects multiple parts for a single instrument (e.g., the right-hand and left-hand staves of a piano or harp part).
Accolade.svg Brace
A brace is used to connect two or more lines of music that are played simultaneously, generally when using a grand staff. The grand staff is used for piano, harp, and some pitched percussion instruments.[1] The brace is occasionally called an accolade in some old texts and can vary in design and style.


A clef defines the pitch range, or tessitura, of the staff on which it is placed. A clef is usually the leftmost symbol on a staff although a different clef may appear elsewhere to indicate a change in register. Historically, clefs could be placed on any line on a staff (or even on a space), but modern notation almost exclusively uses treble, bass, alto, and tenor clef.

Music-GClef.svg G clef (Treble clef)
The spiral of a G clef shows where the G above middle C is located on the staff. A G clef with the spiral on the second line of the staff is called treble clef.[2] The treble clef is the most commonly encountered clef in modern notation.
Alto clefAlto-clef.svg

Tenor clef Tenor-clef.svg
C clef (Alto, and Tenor clefs)
The center of a C clef points to the line representing middle C. The first illustration here is centered on the third line on the staff, making that line middle C. When placed there, the clef is called alto clef, which is mainly used for the viola but is sometimes used for other instruments. The second illustration shows the clef centered on the fourth line—this clef is called tenor clef. Tenor clef is used for bassoon, cello, trombone, and double bass when the notes get very high, avoiding the use of excessive ledger lines.
Until the classical era, C clefs were frequently seen pointing to other lines (it is sometimes called a "movable clef"), mostly in vocal music, but this has been supplanted by the universal use of the treble and bass clefs. Modern editions of music from such periods generally rewrite the original C-clef parts to either treble (female voices), octave treble (tenors), or bass clef (tenors and basses). The C clef was sometimes placed on the third space of the staff (equivalent to an octave treble clef) but this usage is unusual since all other modern clefs are placed on lines.
Music-Fclef.svg F clef (Bass clef)
An F clef places the F below middle C on the line between the dots.[2] When placing the F below middle C on the fourth line, as shown here, it is called bass clef, which is by far its most common usage. Bass clef appears nearly as often as treble clef in modern music notation. In older notation, particularly for vocal music, F clefs were sometimes centered on the third line (baritone clef) but this usage has essentially become obsolete.
Octaveclef.svg Octave clef
Treble and bass clefs can be modified by octave numbers. An "8" below the clef (as in the diagram) indicates that pitches will sound an octave lower than they would with the unmodified clef. A "15" below indicates a two-octave shift. These numbers may also be used above the clef to indicate pitches one or two octaves higher. A treble clef with an eight below is the most common version, typically used in music for guitar or tenor voice.
On a 5-line staff

On a single-line staffMusic-unpitchedclef.svg
Neutral clef
Used for pitchless instruments, such as percussion instruments, this is not a true clef—the lines and spaces do not indicate pitches. Instead, they indicate specific instruments, such as the different individual instruments in a drum set. It may also be drawn with a single-line staff for single percussion instruments.
Tablature.svg Tablature
Also not a true clef—the lines and spaces do not represent pitches—tablature notation is used in place of ordinary staff notation for some string instruments, such as the guitar. The lines represent the strings of an instrument (for standard 6-stringed guitars, six lines would be used). Numbers on the lines show which fret to use. Because the lines represent strings rather than pitches, the spaces between the lines are never used.

Rhythmic values of notes and rests[edit]

Musical note and rest values are determined in reference to the length of a whole note. The other notes are named (in American usage) in comparison—a half note is half the length of a whole note, a quarter note is one quarter the length, etc.

Note British name / American name Rest
Music-octwholenote.svg Large (Latin: Maxima) / Octuple whole note[3] Music-octwholerest.svg
Music-quadwholenote.svg Long / Quadruple whole note[3] Music-quadwholerest.svg
Music-doublewholenote.svg Breve / Double whole note Music-doublewholerest.svg
Music-wholenote.svg Semibreve / Whole note Music-wholerest.svg
Music-halfnote.svg Minim / Half note Music-halfrest.svg
Music-quarternote.svg Crotchet / Quarter note[4][5] Crochet2.svg
Music-eighthnote.svg Quaver / Eighth note
For notes of this length and shorter, the note
has the same number of flags (or hooks) as the rest has branches.
Music-sixteenthnote.svg Semiquaver / Sixteenth note Music-sixteenthrest.svg
Music-thirtysecondnote.svg Demisemiquaver / Thirty-second note Music-thirtysecondrest.svg
Sixtyfourth-note.svg Hemidemisemiquaver / Sixty-fourth note Music-sixtyfourthrest.svg
Music-hundredtwentyeighthnote.svg Semihemidemisemiquaver / Quasihemidemisemiquaver / Hundred twenty-eighth note[6][7] Music-hundredtwentyeighthrest.svg
Semigarrapatea.svg Demisemihemidemisemiquaver / Two hundred fifty-sixth note[3] Silencio de semigarrapatea.svg
Music-beam.svg Beamed notes
Eighth notes (quavers) and shorter notes have flags to indicate their duration, but beams can be used instead of flags to connect groups of these notes. This is usually done to indicate a rhythmic grouping but can also be used to connect notes in ametrical passages. The number of beams is equivalent to the number of flags on the note value—eighth notes are beamed together with a single beam, sixteenth notes with two, and so on. In older printings of vocal music, the use of beams is sometimes reserved for notes that are sung on one syllable of text (melisma). Modern notation of vocal music encourages the use of beaming in a consistent manner with instrumental engraving, however. In non-traditional meters beaming is at the discretion of composers and arrangers and can be used to emphasize a rhythmic pattern.
Music-dotnote.svg Dotted note
Placing a dot to the right of a notehead lengthens the note's duration by one-half. Additional dots lengthen the previous dot instead of the original note, thus a note with one dot is one and one half its original value, a note with two dots is one and three quarters—use of more than two dots is rare. Rests can be dotted in the same manner as notes.
Quarter not with "X" notehead.svg Ghost note
A note with a rhythmic value, but no discernible pitch when played. It is represented by a (saltire) cross (similar to the letter x) for a notehead instead of an oval. Composers will primarily use this notation to represent percussive pitches. This notation is also used in parts where spoken words are used.
Music-measurerest.svg Multi-measure rest
A compact way to indicate multiple measures of rest. Also called gathered rest or multi-bar rest.


Music-breath.svg Breath mark
This symbol tells the performer to take a breath (for aerophones) or leave a slight space (for other instruments). This space does not affect the tempo. For instruments that employ a bow, it indicates to lift the bow and start the next note with a new bowing.
Music-caesura.svg Caesura
A pause during which time is not counted.

Accidentals and key signatures[edit]

Common accidentals[edit]

Accidentals modify the pitch of the notes that follow them on the same staff position within a measure, unless cancelled by an additional accidental.

Music-flat.svg Flat
Lowers the pitch of a note by one semitone.
Music-sharp.svg Sharp
Raises the pitch of a note by one semitone.
Music-natural.svg Natural
Renders null a sharp or flat. The sharp or flat may have been indicated as an accidental or defined by the key signature.
Music-doubleflat.svg Double flat
Lowers the pitch of a note by two semitones. Usually used when the note is already flat in the key signature.[8]
Music-doublesharp 2.svg Double sharp
Raises the pitch of a note by two semitones. Usually used when the note is already sharp in the key signature.

Key signatures[edit]

Key signatures indicate which notes are to be played as sharps or flats in the music that follows, showing up to seven sharps or flats. Notes that are shown as sharp or flat in a key signature will be played that way in every octave—e.g., a key signature with a B indicates that every B is played as a B. A key signature indicates the prevailing key of the music and eliminates the need to use accidentals for the notes that are always flat or sharp in that key. A key signature with no flats or sharps generally indicates the key of C major or A minor, but can also indicate that pitches will be notated with accidentals as required. The key signature examples shown here are as they would appear in treble clef.

Flat key signatures Key-Signatures-flats.svg

Sharp key signatures Key-Signatures-sharps.svg


There is no universally accepted notation for microtonal music, with varying systems being used depending on the situation. A common notation for quarter tones involves writing the fraction 14 next to an arrow pointing up or down. Below are other forms of notation:

Music-demiflat.svg Demiflat
Lowers the pitch of a note by one quarter tone. (Another notation for the demiflat is a flat with a diagonal slash through its stem. In systems where pitches are divided into intervals smaller than a quarter tone, the slashed flat represents a lower note than the reversed flat.)
Music-sesquiflat.svg Flat-and-a-half (sesquiflat)
Lowers the pitch of a note by three quarter tones. As with a demiflat, a slashed double-flat symbol is also used.
Music-demisharp.svg Demisharp
Raises the pitch of a note by one quarter tone.
Music-sesquisharp.svg Sharp-and-a-half (sesquisharp)
Raises the pitch of a note by three quarter tones. Occasionally represented with two vertical and three diagonal bars instead.
Septimal minor third on C.png Harmonic flat
Lowers the pitch of a note to a pitch matching the indicated number in the harmonic series of the root (bottom) of the chord. Illustrated is a specific example, the septimal flat, in the context of a septimal minor third, in which the E is tuned exactly to a 7:6 frequency ratio with the root (C).

A symbol with one vertical and three diagonal bars indicates a sharp with some form of alternate tuning.

Notation for the prime numbers in the harmonic series, labeled with their number (top line), frequency ratios (second line) and interval size in cents (bottom). The 11th harmonic is notated with the arrow notation for a demisharp (F↑ as opposed to Fhalf sharp) while the 7th, 13th, 17th and 19th are labeled with harmonic flats and harmonic sharps relative to C (note that because the 17th and 19th harmonics are closer to equal temperament than the (unlabeled) 5th, labeling of those is seldom necessary).

In 19 equal temperament, where a whole tone is divided into three steps instead of two, music is typically notated in a way that flats and sharps are not usually enharmonic (thus a C represents a third of a step lower than D); this has the advantage of not requiring any nonstandard notation.

Time signatures[edit]

Most music has a rhythmic pulse with a uniform number of beats—each segment of this pulse is shown as a measure. Time signatures indicate the number of beats in each measure (the top number) and also show what type of note represents a single beat (the bottom number). There may be any number of beats in a measure but the most common by far are multiples of 2 and/or 3 (i.e., 2, 3, 4, and 6). Likewise, any note length can be used to represent a beat, but a quarter note (indicated by a bottom number of "4") or eighth note (bottom number of "8") are by far the most common.

Music-timesig.svg Simple time signatures
This example shows that each measure is the length of three quarter notes (crotchets). 3
is pronounced as "three-four" or "three-quarter time".
Compound duple drum pattern.png Compound time signatures
In a compound meter, there is an additional rhythmic grouping within each measure. This example shows 6
time, indicating 6 beats per measure, with an eighth note representing one beat. The rhythm within each measure is divided into two groups of three eighth notes each (notated by beaming in groups of three). This indicates a pulse that follows the eighth notes (as expected) along with a pulse that follows a dotted quarter note (equivalent to three eighth notes).
Music-commontime.svg Common time
This symbol represents 4
time—four beats per measure with a quarter note representing one beat. It derives from the broken circle that represented "imperfect" duple meter in fourteenth-century mensural time signatures.
Music-cuttime.svg Alla breve or Cut time
This symbol represents 2
time—two beats per measure with a half-note representing one beat.
Music-metronome.svg Metronome mark
This notation is used to precisely define the tempo of the music by assigning an absolute duration to each beat. This example indicates a tempo of 120 quarter notes (crotchets) per minute. Many publishers precede the marking with letters "M.M.", referring to Maelzel's Metronome. This is a tempo marking, not a time signature—it is independent of how the beats are grouped (the top number in a time signature), although it defines the tempo in terms of the counting note (the bottom number).

Note relationships[edit]

Tie-music.png Tie
When tied together, two notes with the same pitch are played as a single note. The length of this single note is the sum of the time values of the two tied notes. The symbol for the tie and the symbol for the slur appear the same, but a tie can only join two notes of the same pitch.
While the first note of a slurred group is articulated, the others are not. For bowed instruments this entails playing the notes in a single bow movement, for wind instruments (aerophones) the notes under the slur are not tongued and are played in one continuous breath. On other instruments, like pitched percussion instruments, the notes are connected in a phrase, as if a singer were to sing them in a single breath. In certain contexts a slur may instead indicate that the notes are to be played legato, in which case rearticulation is permitted.
While the slur symbol and the tie symbol appear the same, a tie can only connect notes of the same pitch. In vocal music a slur normally indicates that notes under the slur should be sung to a single syllable.
A phrase mark (or less commonly, ligature) is visually identical to a slur but connects a passage of music over several measures. A phrase mark indicates a musical phrase and may not necessarily require that the music be slurred.
Music-glissando.svg Glissando or Portamento
A continuous, uninterrupted glide from one note to the next that includes the pitches between. Some instruments, such as the trombone, timpani, non-fretted string instruments like the cello, electronic instruments, and the human voice can make this glide continuously (portamento), while other instruments such as the piano or mallet instruments blur the discrete pitches between the start and end notes to mimic a continuous slide (glissando).
Music-triplet.svg Tuplet
A tuplet is a group of notes that would not normally fit into the rhythmic space they occupy. The example shown is a quarter-note triplet—three quarter notes are to be played in the space that would normally contain two. While triplets are the most common version, many other tuplets are possible: five notes in the space of four, seven notes in the space of eight, etc. Specific tuplets are named according to the number of grouped notes; e.g., duplets, triplets, quadruplets, etc.
Music-triad.svg Chord
A chord is several notes sounded simultaneously. Two-note chords are called dyads, three-note chords built by using the interval of a third are called triads.
Music-arpeggio.svg Arpeggiated chord
A chord with notes played in rapid succession, usually ascending, each note being sustained as the others are played. It is also called a "broken chord" or "rolled chord".


Dynamics are indicators of the relative intensity or volume of a musical line.

Music dynamic pianississimo.svg Pianississimo
Extremely soft. Softer dynamics occur very infrequently and would be specified with additional ps.
Music dynamic pianissimo.svg Pianissimo
Very soft.
Music dynamic piano.svg Piano
Soft; louder than pianissimo.
Music dynamic mezzo piano.svg Mezzo piano
Moderately soft; louder than piano.
Music dynamic mezzo forte.svg Mezzo forte
Moderately loud; softer than forte. If no dynamic appears, mezzo-forte is assumed to be the prevailing dynamic level.
Music dynamic forte.svg Forte
Music dynamic fortissimo.svg Fortissimo
Very loud.
Music dynamic fortississimo.svg Fortississimo
Extremely loud. Louder dynamics occur very infrequently and would be specified with additional fs.
Music expression sforzando sfz.svg Sforzando
Literally "forced", denotes an abrupt, fierce accent on a single sound or chord. When written out in full, it applies to the sequence of sounds or chords under or over which it is placed.
Music-crescendo.svg Crescendo
A gradual increase in volume.
Can be extended under many notes to indicate that the volume steadily increases during the passage.
Music-diminuendo.svg Diminuendo
Also decrescendo
A gradual decrease in volume. Can be extended in the same manner as crescendo.
Musical symbols for "niente".png Niente
Meaning "nothing". May be used at the start of a crescendo to indicate "start from nothing" or at the end of a diminuendo to indicate "fade out to nothing".

Rarely, even softer or louder dynamic levels are indicated by adding more ps or fs. While ppp is called "pianississimo" and fff is called "fortississimo", these words (formed by adding an additional "iss") are not proper Italian.

Dynamics are relative, and the meaning of each level is at the discretion of the performer or the conductor. Laws to curb high noise levels in the workplace have changed the interpretation of very loud dynamics in some large orchestral works, as noise levels within the orchestra itself can easily exceed safe levels.[9]

Articulation marks[edit]

Articulations specify the length, volume, and style of attack of individual notes. This category includes accents. Articulations can be combined with one another and may appear in conjunction with phrasing marks (above). Any of these markings may be placed either above or below a note.

Music-staccato.svg Staccato
This indicates that the note should be played shorter than notated, usually half the value, leaving the rest of the metric value silent. Staccato marks may appear on notes of any value, shortening their performed duration without speeding the music itself.
Music-staccatissimo.svg Staccatissimo or Spiccato
This indicates that the note should be played even shorter than staccato. It is usually applied to quarter notes or shorter notes. In the past this marking's meaning was more ambiguous—it was sometimes used interchangeably with staccato and sometimes indicated an accent and not a shortened note. These usages are now almost defunct but still appear in some scores. For string instruments this indicates a bowing technique in which the bow bounces lightly upon the string.
Music-tenuto.svg Tenuto
This symbol indicates that the note should be played at its full value, or slightly longer. It can also indicate a degree of emphasis, especially when combined with dynamic markings to indicate a change in loudness, or combined with a staccato dot to indicate a slight detachment (portato or mezzo staccato).
Music-fermata.svg Fermata or Pause
A fermata indicates that a note, chord, or rest is sustained longer than its written value. It will usually appear on all parts in an ensemble. The fermata is held for as long as the performer or conductor desires.
Music-marcato.svg Accent
An accent indicates that a note should be played louder, or with a harder attack than surrounding unaccented notes. It may appear on notes of any duration.
Music-strong-marcato.svg Marcato
A marcato marking indicates that the note should be played louder or more forcefully than a note with a regular accent mark. In organ notation, this indicates that a pedal note should be played with the toe. This mark above the note indicates the right foot, and below the note indicates the left foot.


Ornaments modify the pitch pattern of individual notes.

Music-trill.svgMusic-pizzicato.svg Trill
A rapid alternation between the specified note and the next higher note (determined by key signature) within its duration, also called a "shake". When followed by a wavy horizontal line, this symbol indicates an extended, or running, trill. In music up to the time of Haydn or Mozart the trill begins on the upper auxiliary note.[10] In percussion notation, a trill is sometimes used to indicate a tremolo. In French baroque notation, the trill, or tremblement, was notated as a small cross above or beside the note.
Music-mordent.svg Upper mordent
Rapidly play the principal note, the next higher note (according to key signature) then return to the principal note for the remaining duration. In some music, the mordent begins on the auxiliary note, and the alternation between the two notes may be extended. In handbells, this symbol is a "shake" and indicates the rapid shaking of the bells for the duration of the note.
Music-inverted-mordent.svg Lower mordent (inverted)
Rapidly play the principal note, the note below it, then return to the principal note for the remaining duration. In much music, the mordent begins on the auxiliary note, and the alternation between the two notes may be extended.
Music-turn-2.svgMusic-turn (inverted).pngMusic-inverted turn.png Gruppetto or Turn
When placed directly above the note, the turn (also known as a gruppetto) indicates a sequence of upper auxiliary note, principal note, lower auxiliary note, and a return to the principal note. When placed to the right of the note, the principal note is played first, followed by the above pattern. Placing a vertical line through the turn symbol or inverting it, it indicates an inverted turn, in which the order of the auxiliary notes is reversed.
Music-appoggiatura.svg Appoggiatura
The first half of the principal note's duration has the pitch of the grace note (the first two-thirds if the principal note is a dotted note).
Music-acciaccatura.svg Acciaccatura
The acciaccatura is of very brief duration, as though brushed on the way to the principal note, which receives virtually all of its notated duration. In percussion notation, the acciaccatura symbol denotes the flam rudiment, the miniature note still positioned behind the main note but on the same line or space of the staff. The flam note is usually played just before the natural durational subdivision the main note is played on, with the timing and duration of the main note remaining unchanged. Also known by the English translation of the Italian term, crushed note, and in German as Zusammenschlag (simultaneous stroke).

Octave signs[edit]

Music-ottavaalta.svg Ottava
8va (pronounced ottava alta) is placed above the staff (as shown) to tell the musician to play the passage one octave higher.
When this sign (or in recent notation practice, an 8vb – both signs reading ottava bassa) is placed below the staff, it indicates to play the passage one octave lower.[11][12]
Music-quindicesimaalta.svg Quindicesima
The 15ma sign is placed above the staff (as shown) to mean "play the passage two octaves higher". A 15ma sign below the staff indicates "play the passage two octaves lower".

8va and 15ma are sometimes abbreviated further to 8 and 15. When they appear below the staff, the word bassa is sometimes added.

Repetition and codas[edit]

Music Tremolo shortcut.jpg
A rapidly repeated note. If the tremolo is between two notes, then they are played in rapid alternation. The number of slashes through the stem (or number of diagonal bars between two notes) indicates the frequency to repeat (or alternate) the note. As shown here, the note is to be repeated at a demisemiquaver (thirty-second note) rate, but it is a common convention for three slashes to be interpreted as "as fast as possible", or at any rate at a speed to be left to the player's judgment.
In percussion notation, tremolos indicate rolls, diddles, and drags. Typically, a single tremolo line on a sufficiently short note (such as a sixteenth) is played as a drag, and a combination of three stem and tremolo lines indicates a double-stroke roll (or a single-stroke roll, in the case of timpani, mallet percussion and some untuned percussion instruments such as triangle and bass drum) for a period equivalent to the duration of the note. In other cases, the interpretation of tremolos is highly variable, and should be examined by the director and performers.
The tremolo symbol also represents flutter-tonguing.
Music-repeat.svg Repeat signs
Enclose a passage that is to be played more than once. If there is no left repeat sign, the right repeat sign sends the performer back to the start of the piece or the movement.
Music-simile.svg Simile marks
Denote that preceding groups of beats or measures are to be repeated. In the examples here, the first usually means to repeat the previous measure, and the second usually means to repeat the previous two measures.
Music-volte.svg Volta brackets (1st and 2nd endings, or 1st- and 2nd-time bars)
A repeated passage is to be played with different endings on different playings. Although two endings are most common, it is possible to have multiple endings (1st, 2nd, 3rd ...).
Music-dacapo.svg Da capo
(lit. "From top") Tells the performer to repeat playing of the music from its beginning. This is usually followed by al fine (lit. "to the end"), which means to repeat to the word fine and stop, or al coda (lit. "to the coda (sign)"), which means repeat to the coda sign and then jump forward.
Music-dalsegno.svg Dal segno
(lit. "From the sign") Tells the performer to repeat playing of the music starting at the nearest segno. This is followed by al fine or al coda just as with da capo.
SegnoTeken.svg Segno
Mark used with dal segno.
Coda sign.svg Coda
Indicates a forward jump in the music to its ending passage, marked with the same sign. Only used after playing through a D.S. al coda (Dal segno al coda) or D.C. al coda (Da capo al coda).

Instrument-specific notation[edit]

Bowed string instruments[edit]

Music-pizzicato.svg Left-hand pizzicato or Stopped note
A note on a stringed instrument where the string is plucked with the left hand (the hand that usually stops the strings) rather than bowed. On the horn, this accent indicates a "stopped note" (a note played with the stopping hand shoved further into the bell of the horn). In percussion this notation denotes, among many other specific uses, to close the hi-hat by pressing the pedal, or that an instrument is to be "choked" (muted with the hand).
Music-snappizzicato.svg Snap pizzicato
On a stringed instrument, a note played by stretching a string away from the frame of the instrument and letting it go, making it "snap" against the frame. Also known as a Bartók pizzicato.
Music-harmonic.svg Natural harmonic or Open note
On a stringed instrument, this means to play a natural harmonic (also called flageolet). Sometimes, it also denotes that the note to be played is an open string. On a valved brass instrument, it means to play the note "open" (without lowering any valve, or without mute). In organ notation, this means to play a pedal note with the heel (above the note, use the right foot; below the note, use the left foot). In percussion notation this denotes, among many other specific uses, to open the hi-hat by releasing the pedal, or allow an instrument to ring.
Music-upbow.svg Up bow or Sull'arco
On a bowed string instrument, the note is played while drawing the bow upward. On a plucked string instrument played with a plectrum or pick (such as a guitar played pickstyle or a mandolin), the note is played with an upstroke.
Music-downbow.svg Down bow or Giù arco
In contrast to the up bow, here the bow is drawn downward to create sound. On a plucked string instrument played with a plectrum or pick (such as a guitar played pickstyle or a mandolin), the note is played with a downstroke.


The guitar has a fingerpicking notation system derived from the names of the fingers in Spanish or Latin. They are written above, below, or beside the note to which they are attached. They read as follows:

Symbol Spanish Italian Latin English French
p pulgar pollice pollex thumb pouce
i índice indice index index index
m medio medio media middle majeur ou médius
a anular anulare anularis ring annulaire
c, x, e, q meñique mignolo minimus little auriculaire


Pedal marks[edit]

Pedal marks appear in music for instruments with sustain pedals, such as the piano, vibraphone and chimes.

Pedal Mark 1.svg Engage pedal
Tells the player to put the sustain pedal down.
Music-pedalup.svg Release pedal
Tells the player to let the sustain pedal up.
Music-pedal.svg Variable pedal mark
More accurately indicates the precise use of the sustain pedal. The extended lower line tells the player to keep the sustain pedal depressed for all notes below which it appears. The shape indicates the pedal is to be momentarily released, then depressed again.
Mute on1.JPG Con sordino (or con sordini), una corda
Tells the player to put the soft pedal down or, for other instruments, apply the mute.
Mute off1.JPG Senza sordino (or senza sordini), tre corde or tutte le corde
Tells the player to let the soft pedal up or, for other instruments, remove the mute.

Other piano notation[edit]

left hand right hand
English l.h. r.h.
left hand right hand
German l.H. r.H.
linke Hand rechte Hand
French m.g. m.d.
main gauche main droite
Italian m.s. m.d.
mano sinistra mano destra
Spanish m.i. m.d.
mano izquierda mano derecha
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Finger identifications:
1 = thumb
2 = index
3 = middle
4 = ring
5 = little

Old (pre-1940) tutors published in the UK may use "English fingering". + for thumb, then 1 (index), 2 (middle), 3 (ring) and 4 (little).[13]

Other stringed instruments[edit]

(With the exception of harp)

0, 1, 2, 3, 4 Finger identifications:
0 = open string (no finger used)
1 = index
2 = middle
3 = ring
4 = little

The thumb is also used by the cello and bass, usually denoted by ϙ (a circle with a line coming out the bottom), or, more rarely, a T.

See also Fingerstyle guitar#Notation.

Four-mallet percussion[edit]

1, 2, 3, 4 Mallet identifications:
1 = Far left mallet
2 = Inner-left mallet
3 = Inner-right mallet
4 = Far right mallet
Some systems reverse the numbers (e.g., 4 = Far-left mallet, 3 = Inner-left mallet, etc.)

Six-mallet percussion[edit]

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Mallet identifications:
1 = Far-left mallet
2 = Middle-left mallet
3 = Inner-left mallet
4 = Inner-right mallet
5 = Middle-right mallet
6 = Far-right mallet

Numbers for six-mallet percussion may be reversed as well.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Music Notation and Engraving – Braces and Bracket, Colorado College Music Department
  2. ^ a b Gerou, Tom; Lusk, Linda (1996). Essential Dictionary of Music Notation. Alfred Music. p. 49. ISBN 0-88284-768-6.
  3. ^ a b c "UNLP at the C@merata Task: Question Answering on Musical Scores ACM" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  4. ^ Examples of the older rest symbol are found in the work of English music publishers up to the 20th century, e.g., W. A. Mozart Requiem Mass, vocal score ed. W. T. Best, pub. London: Novello & Co. Ltd. 1879.
  5. ^ Rudiments and Theory of Music Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, London 1958. I,33 and III,25. The former shows both rest forms without distinction, the latter the "old" form only. The book was the standard theory manual in the UK up until at least 1975. The "old" form was taught as a manuscript variant of the printed form.
  6. ^ Miller, RJ (2015). Contemporary Orchestration: A Practical Guide to Instruments, Ensembles, and Musicians. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-415-74190-3.
  7. ^ Haas, David (2011). "Shostakovich's Second Piano Sonata: A Composition Recital in Three Styles". In Fairclough, Pauline; Fanning, David (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Shostakovich. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. pp. 95–114. doi:10.1017/CCOL9780521842204.006. ISBN 978-1-139-00195-3. The listener is right to suspect a Baroque reference when a double-dotted rhythmic gesture and semihemidemisemiquaver triplets appear to ornament the theme.(p. 112)
  8. ^ "Sharps, Flats, Double Sharps, Double Flats in Music Theory",
  9. ^ "No Fortissimo? Symphony Told to Keep It Down" by Sarah Lyall, The New York Times (20 April 2008)
  10. ^ Rudiments and Theory of Music Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, London 1958. V,29
  11. ^ George Heussenstamm, The Norton Manual of Music Notation (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company), p. 16
  12. ^ Anthony Donato, Preparing Music Manuscript (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall), pp. 42-43
  13. ^ "Scales-continental/ English Fingering". The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. 20 December 2004. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  14. ^ Paterson, Robert (2004). Sounds That Resonate: Selected Developments in Western Bar Percussion During the Twentieth Century. Cornell University: UMI Dissertation Services No. 3114502. p. 182.

External links[edit]