Grace note

Grace note

A grace note is a kind 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 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 distinguishing 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.

As either an appoggiatura or an acciaccatura, 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.

Use in music

In bagpipe music there is extensive use of grace notes. Indeed, because the chanter is not tongued but supplied by a continuous air source from the bag, grace notes are sometimes the only way to differentiate between notes. For example, inserting a grace note between two crochets (quarter notes) played at the same pitch is the only way to indicate them as opposed to them sounding like a single minim (half note). Various multiple grace note ornaments are formalised into distinct types, such as "doublings, throws" and "birls". All of these are played before the beat, while grace notes on other instruments tend to be played on the beat.

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.

Metaphorical use

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. For example, in planning a banquet, one might consider the decision 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.

ee also

*Ornament (music)
*Ghost notes

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Grace note — Grace Grace (gr[=a]s), n. [F. gr[^a]ce, L. gratia, from gratus beloved, dear, agreeable; perh. akin to Gr. ? to rejoice, cha ris favor, grace, Skr. hary to desire, and E. yearn. Cf. {Grateful}, {Gratis}.] 1. The exercise of love, kindness, mercy …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • grace note — n. Music a note not necessary to the melody, added only for ornamentation: it is usually printed as a small note with a slant line through the stem, just before the note that it embellishes, its short time value subtracted from the preceding or… …   English World dictionary

  • grace note — grace англ. [грэ/йс] grace note [грэ/йс но/ут] мелизм …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • grace note — grace ,note noun count an extra musical note added in a piece of music …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • grace note — grace′ note n. mad a musical note, as an appoggiatura, added as a melodic embellishment • Etymology: 1815–25 …   From formal English to slang

  • grace note — ► NOUN Music ▪ an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody …   English terms dictionary

  • grace note — noun an embellishing note usually written in smaller size • Syn: ↑appoggiatura, ↑acciaccatura • Hypernyms: ↑note, ↑musical note, ↑tone * * * noun 1. : a musical note constituting or b …   Useful english dictionary

  • grace note — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms grace note : singular grace note plural grace notes music an extra musical note added in a piece of music …   English dictionary

  • grace note — noun a) A musical note written in smaller print, 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. In planning a banquet, one might consider the decision of the… …   Wiktionary

  • grace note — Music. a note not essential to the harmony or melody, added as an embellishment, esp. an appoggiatura. [1815 25] * * *       musical note constituting or being part of an ornament. See appoggiatura. * * * …   Universalium