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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

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C7a. Ornaments

Grade Six Music Theory General Knowledge, Lesson C7a. - Ornaments


You need to know the same ornaments as you learnt for grade five music theory. The added twist for grade six is that you also have to be able to write them out in full, as they would be played.

Ornament symbols were added to music for several reasons. They allow some freedom of interpretation, and they allow the basic harmony of the music to be more visible.

We’ll examine each ornament in turn.

Note that if there is a small accidental written with the ornament, you’ll need to add that accidental when the ornament is written out in full too. (See the turn for an example).


The Trill

The trill (or “shake”) is a rapid alternation between the note written (called the “principal” note), and the note above. Trills can be very tricky to write out indeed, as the way they are interpreted has always been very subjective and the rules have changed over time. Try to keep to the following basic rules, however: 

  • The trill can start on the note itself or the note above. In earlier music (up to about 1800) the trill usually started on the note above, after 1800 it starts on the note itself.
  • The trill is most often written out in semiquavers or demisemiquavers (16th or 32nd notes). The number of notes you need depends on the length of the written note. For example, a crotchet (quarter note) will need 8 demisemiquavers (32nd notes). 
  • Beam the demisemiquavers (32nd notes) in subdivisions of fours, to make them easier on the eye (see the first example below).
  • Sometimes a trill is preceded by an acciaccatura – this means you should start the trill on the acciaccatura note.
  • The trill should end on the principal note. This means you might have to add a triplet figure at the end.


In this first example, the trill starts on the higher note because it is (imaginary) Bach (pre-1800).

how to write out a trill


In this later (fictitious) example (Mendelssohn was born in 1809), the trill starts on the principal note. A triplet is added at the end, so that the trill also finishes on the principal note.
a trill with a triplet


The Turn

The turn consists of four notes: the note above, the principal note, the note below, the principal note again.

  • Turns can be performed after the written note, or instead of it, depending on where they are written. A turn written directly above a note replaces that note. A turn written after the note should be performed after the note is sounded.
  • Turns can be written using any note value which is basically fast

The first example here is from a piano Sonata by Beethoven. The turn is written after the note, so we play the Bb first, then the turn.

It can be tricky working out what values to write for each note. The Bb is a dotted quaver (dotted 8th note), and we need to squeeze five notes into the same space. We can break it down into three semiquavers (16th notes), then put a triplet into the middle semiquaver (16th note) beat.

how to write out a turn after a note

The next example comes later in the same piece. This time the turn is directly above the note, so it starts on the C. In this case, the four notes of the turn are divided equally into the semiquaver (16th note) beat.

how to write out a turn on a note

The Mordent

There are two kinds of mordent – the lower mordent, and the upper mordent. The mordent consists of three notes.

The lower mordent starts on the principal, then the note below, then the principal again.

The upper mordent is the same pattern, but using the note above the principal.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • The ornament starts on the beat itself (not after)
  • The first two notes are played very quickly, and the third note is sustained for longer.
  • The lower mordent symbol has a short line through the middle. (Think “Line=Lower”).

 This bar is taken from an Aria by Handel. The lower mordent includes an accidental sharp, which means the C must be sharpened. The D is a crotchet (quarter note), so we can give a quarter of its value to the mordent itself, and then have a dotted quaver (dotted 8th) left over for the sustained principal note.

how to write out a lower mordent
There are no hard and fast rules about what note values to write, but notice here that semiquavers (16th notes) are common in the music already. The mordent should be quicker than any note values already commonly used.


This upper mordent appears in a Sonatina by Benda (a Czech 18th century violinist and composer). Notice here that the pace is calmer than in the previous example, with quavers and crotchets (8th and quarter notes) in use.

The mordent can be performed with semiquavers (16th notes). Demisemiquavers (32nd notes) would be ok too.

how to write out a upper mordent

The Acciaccatura

When an acciaccatura is performed, the principal note remains on the beat and the ornament is squeezed in beforehand. The ornaments usually consist of just two notes – the “crushed” note and the principal note.

Sometimes, though, you might find two or more notes in an acciaccatura – in which case they will all have to be squeezed in before the beat! 

  • Acciaccaturas are notated with a small-size quaver (8th note) with a slash through the tail.
  • Acciaccaturas are performed very quickly.
  • As the principal note falls on the beat, the acciaccatura has to “steal” its time from the previous note.

In this example from a Bagatelle by Beethoven, the acciaccatura F# has to steal some time from the D before it, so that the E quaver (8th note) remains on the beat.

Write the acciaccatura with a semiquaver or demisemiquaver (16th or 32nd note), then work out how much of the previous note is left.

how to write out an acciaccatura


The Appoggiatura

An appoggiatura is written with small-size notes. In contrast to the acciaccatura, the appoggiatura falls on the beat, not before it.

  • An appoggiatura can be one or more notes.
  • The notation of the appoggiatura shows you which note length to use.
  • The appoggiatura does not have a slash through its tail.

In this example, from an Allegro by Pergolesi (an 18th century Italian composer), the appoggiatura is notated with a quaver (8th note).

We use the same value when writing it out, and reduce the following G to a quaver (8th note) too.


how to write out an appoggiatura




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