I'm working through some tunes by Byrd, and am wondering about the ornamentation, the two diagonal slashes through the note stem.

As far as I can tell, we don't actually know what the composers of that period meant by them, although there are some long and laborious extrapolations out there. They may be upper or lower mordents, or trills, and left out entirely or added according to the taste of the performer.

Is that about right? Is there any guidance on how to approach them besides just doing what you think sounds good?

enter image description here

  • I found these ornaments in Bukofzer's "Music in the Baroque Era" where they occurred in an old manuscript of "Greensleeves." I looked for the realization but I couldn't find anything either. I did try several books and some internet sources about baroque ornamentation. Several ornaments worked; short trills and mordents as mentioned in the original question. Even a turn sometimes.
    – ttw
    Dec 26, 2020 at 19:07
  • Please post an image.
    – Aaron
    Dec 26, 2020 at 21:10
  • 1
    Image attached.
    – Kevin G.
    Dec 27, 2020 at 17:51
  • Related question: standard tremolo notation.
    – guidot
    Dec 27, 2020 at 21:36
  • That is specific to violin playing, I'm asking specifically about keyboard.
    – Kevin G.
    Dec 28, 2020 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


From "The ornamentation in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book with an introductory study of contemporary practice":

The single- and double-stroke ornament signs appear at first glance to be indiscriminately scattered over the music without purpose. Research into their use reveals them to be employed systematically, besides being decorative elements which add brilliance to the music. The frequency with which they coincide with the pulse unit and the rhythmic pulsation created by it, together with the profusion of their occurrence, make these signs a unique phenomenon in late sixteenth-century ornamentation. Their interpretation remains a difficult issue to clarify. The evidence assembled in this study points to a classification of the strokes according to the accenti e trilli principle. The single stroke can then be interpreted as a slide (from a third below the main note), and the double stroke as a tremolo or tremoletto - the most common sixteenth-century ornament. Its mirror-image, the mordent, is occasionally more appropriate in certain contexts, and in cadences the double stroke followed by a two-note suffix most likely signifies a groppo. (emphasis mine)

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book contains a number of pieces by William Byrd, and the study quoted above understands the manuscript "as representative of late sixteenth-century practice."

  • So from the following sentence ("Its mirror-image, the mordent") we should interpret "a tremolo or tremoletto" as what might be today called an inverted mordent?
    – AakashM
    Mar 30, 2021 at 11:50
  • @AakashM I can't say with confidence. That would make a good question post.
    – Aaron
    Mar 30, 2021 at 12:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.