Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


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. Such ornamentation can be very elaborate (it was often so in the Baroque period) or relatively simple.

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.

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 normally.

Table of contents
1 Trill
2 Mordent
3 Turn
4 Acciaccatura
5 Appoggiatura


A rapid alternation between an indicated note and the one above, usually indicated by the letter tr written above the staff. The trill is also known as the shake. See trill for more details.


The mordent is thought of as a rapid single alteration between an indicated note, the note above (in the case of the upper mordent) or below (in the case of the lower or inverted mordent) the indicated note, 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:

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:

It should be noted that 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. This confusion over the meaning of the unadorned word mordent is what has led to the modern terms upper and lower mordent being used rather than mordent and inverted mordent.

Although mordents are now thought of as just a single alteration between notes, in the Baroque period it appears that a Mordant may sometimes have been executed with more than one alteration between the indicated note and the note below, making it a sort of inverted trill.


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 indicated by a mirrored S-shape lying on its side above the staff. 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 upsidedown.

If the turn symbol is placed directly above a note, it is performed exactly as outlined above. If it is placed between two notes, however, the note before the symbol is played, then the turn, and then the following note. So the following turns:

might be executed like this:

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


Meaning "crushed in" in Italian, it designates a note which should be played on the beat, and as quickly as possible. It is theoretically timeless.

The acciaccatura is written as a note of smaller size, with a diagonal bar through the stem:

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

Some pianists play both the acciaccatura and the main note simultaneously, releasing the grace note immediately.

The term "grace note" is sometimes used to mean specifically an acciaccatura. However, some people distinguish between the two by saying that an acciaccatura is played on the beat, while a true grace note is played slightly before the beat. Both are notated in the same way, and knowing when to play the note is largely a matter of style, although sometimes a grace note will be notated in the bar preceeding the note to which it is attached, showing it is to be played before the beat.


From the Italian word appoggiare, "to lean". The appoggiatura is important melodically and receives half the time value of the note it precedes.

The appoggiatura is written as a note of smaller size, like the acciaccatura but without the bar:

This would be executed as follows:

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