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Ornament (music)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


In music, ornaments are musical flourishes that are not necessary to the overall melodic (or harmonic) line, but serve to decorate or "ornament" that line. Many ornaments are performed as "fast notes" around a central note. The amount of ornamentation in a piece of music can vary from quite extensive (it was often so in the Baroque period) to relatively little or even none. The word agrément is used specifically to indicate the French Baroque style of ornamentation.

In the baroque period, it was common for performers to improvise ornamentation on a given melodic line. A singer performing a da capo aria, for instance, would sing the melody relatively unornamented the first time, but decorate it with additional flourishes the second time. Improvised ornamentation continues to be part of the Irish musical tradition[1], particularly in sean nós singing but also throughout the wider tradition as performed by the best players.

Ornamentation may also be indicated by the composer. A number of standard ornaments (described below) are indicated with standard symbols in music notation, while other ornamentations may be appended to the staff in small notes, or simply written out normally. A grace note is a note written in smaller type, with or without a slash through it, to indicate that its note value does not count as part of the total time value of the measure. Alternatively, the term may refer more generally to any of the small notes used to mark some other ornament (see Appoggiatura, below), or in association with other some ornament's indication (see Trill, below), regardless of the timing used in the execution.

In Spain, these ornaments were called "diferenzias", and can be traced back to the early 16th century, when the first books with music for the guitar were produced.

Types of ornament


A trill is a rapid alternation between an indicated note and the one above, also known as the shake. Usually, if the music containing the trill was written before 1800 the trill is played by starting a note above the written note. If the music was written after 1800 then the trill is usually played by starting on the note written and going up to the note above. A printed score will often indicate which interpretation is to be used, either in the preface to the score or by using a grace note.

Sometimes it is expected that the trill will end with a turn (by sounding the note below rather than the note above the principal note, immediately before the last sounding of the principal note), or some other variation. Such variations are often marked with a few grace notes following the note that bears the trill indication.

The trill is indicated by either a tr~~~ or a tr~~~~~, with the ~ representing the length of the trill, above the staff.


The mordent is thought of as a rapid single alternation between an indicated note, the note above (called the upper mordent, inverted mordent, or pralltriller) or below (called the lower mordent or mordent), and the indicated note again.

The upper mordent is indicated by a short squiggle; the lower mordent is the same with a short vertical line through it:

Image:Upper and lower modent notation.png

As with the trill, the exact speed with which the mordent is performed will vary according to the tempo of the piece, but at moderate tempi the above might be executed as follows:

Image:Upper and lower mordent execution.png

Listen to a passage firstly played with lower mordents, then played without. (Ogg)

Confusion over the meaning of the unadorned word mordent has led to the modern terms upper and lower mordent being used, rather than mordent and inverted mordent. Practice, notation, and nomenclature vary widely for all of these ornaments, and this article as a whole addresses an approximate nineteenth-century standard. In the Baroque period, a Mordant (the German equivalent of mordent) was what later came to be called an inverted mordent and what is now often called a lower mordent. In the 19th century, however, the name mordent was generally applied to what is now called the upper mordent. Although mordents are now thought of as just a single alternation between notes, in the Baroque period a Mordant may sometimes have been executed with more than one alternation between the indicated note and the note below, making it a sort of inverted trill. Mordents of all sorts might typically, in some periods, begin with an extra inessential note (the lesser, added note), rather than with the principal note as shown in the examples here. The same applies to trills, which in Baroque and Classical times would standardly begin with the added, upper note. A lower inessential note may or may not be chromatically raised (that is, with a natural, a sharp, or even a double sharp) to make it just one semitone lower than the principal note.


A short figure consisting of the note above the one indicated, the note itself, the note below the one indicated, and the note itself again. It is marked by a mirrored S-shape lying on its side above the staff.

The details of its execution depend partly on the exact placement of the turn mark. The following turns:

Image:Turn notation.png

might be executed like this:

Image:Turn execution.png

The exact speed at which the notes of a turn are executed can vary, as can its rhythm. The question of how a turn is best executed is largely one of context, convention, and taste.

The lower added note may or may not be chromatically raised (see mordent).

An inverted turn (the note below the one indicated, the note itself, the note above it, and the note itself again) is usually indicated by putting a short vertical line through the normal turn sign, though sometimes the sign itself is turned upside down.


(Long) Appoggiatura

From the Italian word appoggiare, "to lean upon"; (pronounced approximately [əˌpʰodʒə̆ˈtuˑɾə]). The long appoggiatura is important melodically and often suspend the principal note by taking away the time-value of the appoggiatura prefixed to it (generally half the time value of the note, though in triple time, for example, it might receive two thirds of the time). The added note (the unessential note) is one degree higher or lower than the principal note; and, if lower, it may or may not be chromatically raised (see mordent).

The appoggiatura is written as a grace note prefixed to a principal note and printed in small character, usually without the oblique stroke:

Image:Apoggiatura notaton.png

This would be executed as follows:

Image:Appogiatura execution.png

Listen to a passage with two phrases ending in appoggiaturas, followed by these two phrases without them. (Ogg)

Appoggiaturas are also usually on the strong or strongest beat of the resolution and are approached by a leap and leave by a step.

Musicians' mnemonic: the appoggiatura is longer than the acciaccatura because it is podgy.

So-called unaccented appoggiaturas are also quite common in many periods of music, even though they are deprecated by some early theorists (for example CPE Bach, in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen). While not being identical with the acciaccatura (see below), these are almost always quite short, and take their time from the allocation for the note that precedes them. They are more likely to be seen as full-size notes in the score, rather than in small character – at least in modern editions.


From the Italian word acciaccare, "to crush"; (pronounced approximately [əˌtʃækə̆ˈtuˑɾə]). The acciaccatura (sometimes called short appoggiatura) is perhaps best thought of as a shorter, less melodically significant, variant of the long appoggiatura, where the delay of the principal note is scarcely perceptible - theoretically subtracting no time at all. It is written using a grace note (often a quaver, or eighth note), with an oblique stroke through the stem:

Image:Acciaccatura notation.png

The exact interpretation of this will vary according to the tempo of the piece, but the following is possible:

Image:Acciaccatura execution.png

Whether the note should be played before or on the beat is largely a question of taste and performance practice. Exceptionally, the acciaccatura may be notated in the bar preceding the note to which it is attached, showing that it is to be played before the beat. (This guide to practice is unfortunately not available, of course, if the principal note does not fall at the beginning of the measure.)

The implication also varies with the composer and the period. For example, Mozart's and Haydn's long appoggiaturas are –to the eye– indistinguishable from Prokofiev's and Moussorgsky's before-the-beat acciaccaturas.

In some cases on instruments that permit it, such as the piano, the acciaccatura is sounded simultaneously with the principal note, and then immediately released.


  1. ^ Ó Canainn, Tomás (1993). Traditional Music in Ireland. Cork, Ireland: Ossian Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-946005-73-7.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

  • An interesting explanation of different kinds of ornaments
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