In music notation, a fermata is a half-circle with a dot in the center positioned over a note, just above it or the staff (whichever is higher). It indicates that the note should be extended past its specified duration for an indeterminate length of time. The word means "stop" in Italian.

For purposes of counting beats, the measure containing the note counts it as if the fermata were never there. It is used only to add style and feeling to a particular point in the music, not extend the number of beats in a note. When followed by a fetura, it should be terminated abruptly.

A fermata looks something like this, when positioned above a half note on a staff:

    /\                        /.\                          
---| /-----------------------------------------------------
  /|                          |                            
|  |  |                       |                            
 \ |  |                                                    

Colloquially, this symbol is referred to as the conductor's eye: the dot being the eye, and the curve being the eyebrow.

When working with the youngest students, this is one of my favourite definitions: I tell the student that in a orchestra, when you have a note held for a duration longer than indicated by the note itself, the conductor will grill you with his eye for as long as he wants you to hold the note. (In an orchestra, these decisions are made by the conductor.)

And then, I pull my glasses down to the edge of my nose, and stare over them at my student.

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