Let's consider for example the first 3 bars of G-Minor by Luo Ni, and let's focus on the right hand.

*Where should I put the accent :

-on the note number 1 (note "B"), the number 5 (note "B"), the number 9 (note "B"), the number 13 (note "B")


-on the note number 1 (note "B"), the number 9 (note "B")

What do you recommend (and why ?)

enter image description here

*bonus : same question for prelude 2 of Bach (G minor was adapted from it) enter image description here

in particular, if one should not make accent on the note number 5 and 13, what is the "musical" reason ?

  • 2
    It may be a language problem, but this isn't making sense for me.
    – Tim
    Aug 11, 2021 at 11:01
  • 1
    @Tim I don't think it's a language problem. The question asks about the right hand part, and seems to indicate that every fourth note in the right hand is a G, but the right hand never plays G. Mathieu, what do those parenthetical Gs mean?
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2021 at 13:31
  • 1
    @phoog: Every fourth note in the left hand is a G, so perhaps the OP just got left & right mixed up. Aug 11, 2021 at 20:04
  • 4
    @MichaelSeifert I thought of that, but the numbering of the notes only makes sense for the right-hand part (and every second note is a G in the left hand). Mathieu Krisztian, you really wrote "right hand," but nobody understands why you wrote "(G)" after each note number. What does it mean?
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:10
  • 3
    @MathieuKrisztian There is no G in the right hand of any of the pieces in your question. Aug 12, 2021 at 9:43

3 Answers 3


4/4 time generally asks for stronger accents on Beats 1.0 and 3.0 (your note numbers 1 and 9) and weaker accents on Beats 2.0 and 4.0 (your note numbers 5 and 13). In essence, I recommend both the OP's suggestions at the same time, but to varying degrees.

Note that 2/2 time generally asks for only the accents on note numbers 1 and 9.

Actual accent markings mean those notes should be emphasized above and beyond what the meter asks for (or even drown out the meter if the accents are on offbeats). I'd make the accents on Beats 2.0 and 4.0 (note numbers 5 and 13) of that Bach prelude very weak compared to the accented notes.

(Yes, a large C for a meter is used to mean 4/4 time.)

  • 1
    Does this sound to you like a homework question..?
    – Tim
    Aug 11, 2021 at 11:42
  • Meh, if so, it's a heck of an assignment! I'm understanding it as a performance interpretation question. Aug 11, 2021 at 12:51
  • 1
    @phoog - is used to -(uzed), not 'used to' - (ussed). English is sometimes subtle yet confusing!
    – Tim
    Aug 11, 2021 at 13:45
  • 1
    @AndyBonner - I think the original circle represented the holy trinity, thus three time, which became incomplete in two time, broken in four time, thus the broken circle, looking rather like a C, and thus presumed by many to mean Common time - which indeed it now is.
    – Tim
    Aug 11, 2021 at 14:50
  • 1
    @AndyBonner the C-like mensuration sign never meant 2/4. The numerical mensuration ratios meant something rather different from the time signatures that evolved from them. The table is confusing, but I believe they're claiming that it means 2/4 when you transcribe into modern notation by shortening the note values by a factor of 4. That's a questionable overgeneralization, and it's largely fairly useless, since mensural music mostly wasn't metrical, and putting mensural music into modern metrical notation generally makes it harder to understand it as non-metrical.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:20

This is a question about interpretation and phrasing, which is always a subjective and personal field. However, there are objective rules of thumb that govern phrasing that are relevant here.

  1. We're always told "the downbeat is the strong beat." This is especially true in the baroque period, often referred to in string contexts as the "Rule of the down-bow," which dictated that the "strong" downbeat should use the "strong" down-bow direction. Like all rules, it's made to be subverted and shouldn't inform every single measure equally, but it was universally understood. Charpentier (quoted in Cessac, quoted in Judy Tarling's Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners) says in 1692:

Note that there are strong and weak beats in music. In a measure with four beats, the first and third beats are strong, the second and fourth are weak.

By this rule, notes "0" and "9" would emphasized, but "0" more so than "9" as the downbeat.

  1. We might quibble about the word "accent." The ">" accents printed in the Bach excerpt are purely editorial; they were not put there by Bach. (See the manuscript, https://ks4.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/d/dd/IMSLP457551-PMLP05948-Partitur_D-B_Mus._ms._Bach_P_415.pdf, page 7.) (As a side note—I'm certainly used to hearing those very heavy-handed accents in that Prelude. I'd be curious when they show up in the historical record, and in their place in a reception history of the piece.) Especially as a string player, a modern-era definition of "accent" has implications for attack and articulation that are not germane to a discussion of metric emphasis and phrasing. I'd prefer to use the term "emphasis," or the historical terms "strong" and "weak." Also, talking about accents suggests isolating individual 16th notes for "special treatment," implying that all the notes are at one volume and then certain ones should "stick out" as being much louder. This assumption of a heterogeneous dynamic level is not part of baroque thought.. To quote Tarling again:

One of the main concepts associated with performing Baroque music, in technique and inherent in the music, is the principle of inequality. ... By emphasising different parts of the beat, the bar and the phrase, this way of playing has no need of detailed dynamic instructions.

... in other words, Bach had no need to notate any accents because they would be understood from convention.

Instead of thinking of "accents" that affect specific notes, I would advise thinking of phrasing fluidly; if a note is "important," chances are you will build toward it and fall away from it. Instead of 2 "accented" notes among 14 equally un-accented ones, I'd look for a dynamic phrasing that took into account motion toward middle beats, toward downbeats, and then across measures as the harmonic tension ebbs and flows. That brings me to

  1. Harmonic motion is even more important than metric stress to phrasing. The chord shifts with every bar, and you should note just emphasize certain notes, but sculpt your progress toward moments of increased harmonic tension (dissonances, diminished chords or chords containing 7ths, suspensions and other non-chordal tones, etc.), and relax on their resolutions. In other words, while the downbeat of every measure is (probably) the strongest, not every downbeat is equal. Your question focuses on the right hand, but sometimes this must be driven by the progression of the left hand.
  • Phrasing isn't subjective when it's specifically notated, as here.
    – Laurence
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:10
  • Heh, it's hair-splitting, but my final point above suggests that what's on the page is merely the first step in phrasing (unless you're playing Webern or something where if he don't say it he don't mean it!), so phrasing should always include personal interpretation. And of course my other point is that, if we're talking about the Bach prelude, he didn't in fact specify anything, not even the slurs. But that baroque performance practice also regarded unwritten rules as obvious and objective. Aug 11, 2021 at 17:24
  • @LaurencePayne In fact—and at this point it devolves into idle philosophizing—but I'd argue that even when notated, dynamics and articulation are subjective. Sure, it's a four-bar phrase, but how do the four bars relate to each other? How does that chunk relate to the next 4 bars? Is that accent a mere nudge, or something that has a blast radius? Is the crescendo linear or logarithmic, and how long does it last? Aug 11, 2021 at 17:29
  • Yes, it can be argued that EVERYTHING notated is subjective!
    – Laurence
    Aug 11, 2021 at 18:45
  • Another thing to consider is the very limited dynamic range of baroque keyboards. Accent was not primarily realized through volume. Inequality was achieved by lengthening and shortening notes and/or subdivisions, and/or by leaving more or less space between notes.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:24

There's nothing in these examples to suggest any modification of the normal ONE - two - Three - four stresses.

Phrasing - explicitly marked or implied by the melodic line - CAN imply accents elsewhere. Both of these phrasings are possible and, without the phrase marks, I'd probably assume the first, with the stress offset to the second quaver of the second bar. But there's none of that in your examples.

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