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I recently listened to a piano piece which contains headless notes.
The piece is Invocación a San Gregorio for Piano (2013) by Marco Alejandro Gil.
Youtube-Link

enter image description here

What is the meaning of this notation?
Kind regards

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2 Answers 2

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The absence of noteheads may also be used to represent ad libitum pitch choices — a performance note can specify free pitch/vary pitch at will, and so on. (Elaine Gould, Behind Bars, p. 160)

The arpeggios are performed improvisationally, so the headless notes are there to mark the overall timing and the alignment with the melody but at the same time to indicate to the performer that the specific notes are improvised. This is demonstrated in the recording provided, where one can hear that the performed notes do not correspond directly to the notation but follow its overall shape.

Note the Spanish instructions below the arpeggios:

el orden, velocidad y extensión del arpegio puede variar mientras se respete la armonia.

the order, speed and extension of the arpeggio can vary as long as the harmony is respected.

A similar Q&A can be found on Reddit. There is also on this SE site the same question in relation to guitar (What does a note with no head mean?), which has a different answer but may be of interest.

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    Going by the composer's textual instructions, "the harmony is respected", so it seems that "the specific notes are" not "improvised"; by contrast, "the ... speed ... of the arpeggio can vary", so the overall timing is not critical.
    – Rosie F
    May 5 at 11:09
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    @RosieF "improvised" certainly seems correct to me. It does not mean that every musical element is left to the performer's invention. The harmony is basically F sharp minor 7th; whether one plays a particular part of the arpeggio as descending from C sharp or from A is an improvisational choice of "specific notes."
    – phoog
    May 5 at 11:28
  • @RosieF By your reasoning, most jazz is also not improvised, since the harmony is respected there, too.
    – Aaron
    May 5 at 13:10
  • OK, @phoog and Aaron, good points.
    – Rosie F
    May 5 at 13:17
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The Spanish instructions:
"el orden, velocidad y extensión del arpegio puede variar mientras se respete la armonía"

translates as:
"the order, speed and extension of the arpeggio can vary as long as the harmony is respected"

The headless notes are a suggestion.

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