Consider the following:

Chopin Waltz in A Minor, mm. 17–19

(Chopin At the Piano - Verlag)

Should the grace notes be played before the beat or on the beat? I am reading a book on music theory, and it says:

Book excerpt suggesting placement of grace notes on the beat in Chopin

(The AB Guide to Music Theory - Eric Taylor)

  • Great question! Please add the bibliographic information for the book.
    – Aaron
    Sep 25, 2021 at 20:30
  • Let’s note that not all performers would agree that the questions “how did Chopin play it” and “how should I play it” are the same thing. Personally, I prefer to pursue “historically inspired performance,” but there is certainly a massive inertia of received tradition to push against that assumes before-the-beat for everything after Haydn (and often before). At the same time, I will caution that individual artifacts of composers’ own testimony like this do not always settle matters. … Sep 25, 2021 at 21:48
  • … Mozart’s letter with sample ornamentation of the slow movement of the piano concerto, Telemann’s Methodische Sonaten, this notebook — The usual questions revolve around whether the example over-corrects to make a point, whether the composer meant it as a one-off or a general principle, whether they changed their mind later, and the degree to which we can extrapolate practice for other composers of the same period. Sep 25, 2021 at 21:50
  • You'll never get a straight answer. The great performers of these works have different approaches, and are not even consistent within a single piece.
    – cruthers
    Sep 27, 2021 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


This is the kind of question where even the experts are not in agreement as to exactly what Chopin intended. Since nobody really knows for sure, you can interpret it either way. All you need to do is make sure your interpretation sounds good. I suggest trying to play the grace notes on the beat, but don't worry if they end up "across the barline". Just let the melody flow naturally.


Short answer: Play it how you like. Chopin died more than 100 years before this particular piece was published, so we may know even less about it than some of his other pieces. It was published and became well-known at a time when the tastes of performers were somewhat different than what we believe them to have been in Chopin's time.

This is the first Chopin piece I learned as a student (about 1984). I have it in Chopin: An Introduction to his Piano Works, edited by Willard Palmer, Alfred Masterworks Edition, 1971. Since this piece was published posthumously, the autograph was missing dynamic and pedal notations. Palmer adds these, and also adds a dotted line between the A bass note and the B of the appogiatura in measure 18, similar to what you showed from The AB Guide to Music Theory. Also, the first grace notes in the piece (at measure 4) have a comment: "All the appogiaturas should be played quickly and on the beat."

The introduction to Palmer's book goes into great detail regarding ornamentation (some 7 pages of the introduction), and is essentially in agreement with your second excerpt. I'm sure there has been further research into the topic since it was published, but the gist of it is to say that many 20th-century interpreters of Chopin played his works in a style more typical of the European Romanticists, but Chopin's style was formed in his earlier years and was more in line with the classical interpretation, where the appogiaturas are played on the beat and their values subtracted from the main note that follows.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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