Ligatures and coloration in late renaissance music

This is a quick reference card for note values, ligatures, coloration and partial coloration in late Renaissance music.

Note values

Note values


A ligature is made of a first note, perhaps middle notes and a final note.

1. Any note with a tail on the right is a Long.
Ligature 1

First note

2. with a tail on the left, upward, is a Semibreve, and the second note is also a Semibreve.
3. with a tail on the left, downward, is a Breve.
4. without a tail, in a descending ligature, is a Long.
5. without a tail, in a rising ligature, is a Breve.
Ligatures 2 to 5

Middle note

6. if the first note has a left upward tail, then second note is a Semibreve (rule 2).
7. all other middle notes are Breve.
Ligatures 6 and 7

Final note

8. square (not oblique), descending, is a Long.
9. square (not oblique), ascending, with a tail, is a Long.
10. square (not oblique), ascending, without a tail, is a Breve.
11. oblique, in two-note ligature, if the first note has a left upward tail, is a Sembibreve (rule 6).
12. all other oblique notes are Breves.
Ligatures 8 to 12


A black note loses one third of its value and is always imperfect.

Partial coloration

A partially colored note consist of two notes, each note half the value of the whole note. The second note is colored.
Partial coloration

David van Ooijen 6/2003

For a more complete treatment of the subject you can consult these books, which I used to make my Quick Reference Card in the first place:
Apel, Willi. Die Notation der polyphonen Musik 900-1600. Breitkopf 1970.
Donnington, Robert. The interpretation of early music. Faber and Faber New edition 1989.
Morley, Thomas. A plain & easy introduction to practical music (London, 1597). Edited by Alec Harman. The Norton Library 1973.

You can also download this Quick Reference Card as a convenient everything-at-a-glance paper (A4-size) here (208Kb).