Piano Sheet Music – Bar Line – What is it and What Does it Do?

Reading piano sheet music is like learning a new language. Each symbol has a unique meaning. Discover what a bar line is and what it does.

A bar of music is a small section of music. It is the maths of music!

The bar line is the vertical line that marks the end of the bar.

At the end of a piece of music you will find a double bar line.

If a piece of music has a 4/4 time signature, the top number tells you how many beats in a bar. In this case, since the top (or 1st) number is 4 – then there are 4 beats in every bar.

Most dance music is played with a 4/4 time signature. It gives the music a steady, driving beat. Most verses or choruses of a song contain 16 bars. This gives music a balanced, natural feel.

Individual rhythms, like coins, are worth different values. There are rhythms worth 1, 2, 3 and 4 beats in music. There are also rhythms that are worth less than 1 beat. A bar contains an exact number of beats. You could have one rhythm worth 4 beats in your first bar. The next bar could have four rhythms worth 1 beat. The rule is – they must all add up to the same number of beats.

There are several functions of bar lines.

#1 – It divides the music up into readable chunks – rather like punctuation marks in English.

#2 – If several musicians are playing together, it gives them all an exact location to start from: “Play from bar 17”.

#3 – Its vital job is to place the emphasis on beat 1. The 1st beat of every new bar should be played slightly stronger than the other beats. It would sound like this: 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4