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A grace note is a common term for a phenomenon of music notation used to denote several kinds of musical ornaments. When occurring by itself, a single grace note normally indicates the intention of either an appoggiatura or an acciaccatura. When they occur in groups, grace notes can be interpreted to indicate any of several different classes of ornamentation, depending on interpretation.
In either case, grace notes occur as notes of short duration before the sounding of the relatively longer-lasting note which immediately follows them. This longer note, to which any grace notes can be considered harmonically and melodically subservient (except in the cases of certain appoggiaturas, in which the ornament may be held for a longer duration than the note it ornaments), is called the principal in relation to the grace notes. Please see the article on ornamentation for a discussion of the rhythmic differences between the interpretations and usages of grace notes outlined herein.
In notation a grace note is distinguished from a regular note by print size. A grace note is indicated by printing a note that is much smaller than a regular note, sometimes with a slash through the note stem (if two or more grace notes, there might be a slash through the note stem of the first note but not the subsequent grace note). The presence or absence of a slash through a note stem is often interpreted to indicate the intention of an acciaccatura or an appoggiatura, respectively. Note that in the works of some composers, especially Frédéric Chopin, a long series of notes may be printed in the small type reserved for grace notes simply to show that the amount of time to be taken up by those notes as a whole unit is a subjective matter to be decided by the performer. Such a group of small-printed notes may or may not have an accompanying principal note, and so may or may not be considered as grace notes in analysis.
A grace note represents an ornament, and the distinguishment between whether a given singular grace note is to be played as an appoggiatura or acciaccatura in the performance practice of a given historical period (or in the practice of a given composer) is usually the subject of lively debate. This is because we must rely on literary, interpretative accounts of performance practice in those days before such time as audio recording was implemented, since only a composer's personal or sanctioned recording could directly document usage.
In modern editions of classical works, editors often seek to eliminate the potential for different interpretations of ornamental symbology, of which grace notes are a prime example, by converting a composer's original ornamental notation into literal notation, the interpretation of which is far less subject to variation. Most modern composers, although by no means all of them, have followed this trend in the prima facie notation of their works.
The term grace note is sometimes colloquially used in a metaphorical sense to indicate concerns which are of secondary importance to that which is of primary concern. In planning a banquet, one might consider the deciding of the color of napkins to be used to be a 'grace note' in relation to deciding the courses that would be offered on the menu.
- ornament (music)
- ghost notes