What is a Tie?
A very common musical marking you will see is called a tie. A tie is drawn as an arc-shaped line connecting two identical notes.
A tie binds, or ties, together two written notes of the same pitch. The pair of tied notes acts as one note with their rhythmic values added together.
Playing Tied Notes
When a pair of notes is tied, the second note of the pair is not plucked or attacked again. Instead, the first note is plucked/attacked and held for the duration of both notes.
Why Do We Need Ties?
There are certain musical situations where the only way to indicate a rhythm is by using a tie. The most common situation is when a note sustains over the barline.
You’ll remember that all the rhythms in a bar must add to the correct number of beats in the time signature. Sometimes the last note in one bar is sustained into the next bar.
For instance, you might play a note that lasts the length of a quarter note but start it on the last 8th note of a bar. (See example.) That means half of that quarter note will carry over into the next bar. Since a bar of 4/4 music cannot add to nine eighth notes, the only way to indicate this is by using a tie. You must tie the first half of the note (the last eighth note in the first bar) to the second half (the first eighth note of the next bar).
This is called "playing across the barline" and is very common in many styles of bass playing and music.
Another reason for using ties is to make reading rhythms in music a little easier. Using ties often makes seeing where the beat falls clearer.
Don’t Confuse Ties and Slurs
The marking for ties and slurs is identical and often confuses students. The difference is a tie connects two notes of the same pitch (on the same line or space of the staff). A slur applies to two or more different notes and means the two different notes should be played legato. For bass players the slur usually means to apply a hammer-on or pull-off technique to the notes.