Ties vs. slurs

Ties and slurs look superficially similar but differ in meaning.

Ties indicate that a note should not be re-struck. They are used to join notes of the same pitch together. For example, ties can be used to extend notes across multiple bars. Although multiple notes can be included in a single tie chain, each tie in the chain only joins one notehead to the next notehead on the staff.

Ties can be used in conjunction with articulation, but articulation on tied notes only affects the attack at the start of the tie chain and the release at the end of the tie chain.

Figure 1. Two long notes tied together

Slurs indicate articulation, such as bowing or breathing, and normally group notes of different pitches together. Slurs can join two noteheads together with any number of pitches in between. They often indicate the shaping of phrases.

Slurs can also be used in conjunction with articulation. Unlike ties, articulation within slurs can affect the sound throughout the phrase. For example, staccato articulations on repeated notes of the same pitch within a slur indicate that notes should be played on a stringed instrument using the same bow direction, but stopping the bow between each note.

Figure 2. A phrase with notes grouped together by slurs