I've tried Googling the difference between a turn and mordent, but all the answers are really vague. I also couldn't find any helpful images that explain to me. I'm really confused right now. Turns and mordents both seem so similar to me, and right now the only differences I can see are their symbols. Could someone please explain the difference?


1 Answer 1

  • Mordent: includes only one note either above or below the main note.
  • Turn: includes both one pitch above and one pitch below the main note.

Below is a simple example of a "lower mordent". Note how the main note is struck, followed by its lower neighbor, then a return to the main note.

Lower mordent: E-D-E

And here is one possibility for a turn, with notes both above and below the main note.

Turn: F-E-D-E

The specific executions depends on musical context, but will always maintain the characteristics of a single ornamental pitch in a mordent and two ornamental pitches in a turn.

One of the primary sources for information on (Baroque era) ornaments is found in the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, by J.S. Bach. An image can be found on Wikipedia, which also gives additional notated examples of mordents and turns.

  • 1
    One note to add: In modern english use the term mordent would be primarily applied to the prall trill, i.e. the upper mordent. The mordent in question is the proper baroque mordent (the prall trill was not really used in Bach’s times) is usually known as reverse mordent or lower mordent. So when people talk about a mordent in baroque keyboard music they generally mean what is now known as reverse mordent. If you see a sign that looks like an upper mordent that is in fact a trill.
    – Lazy
    Jul 9 at 19:00
  • And I guess we should note that there are other possibilities for "turns", for example, beginning on the target note, and then up-back-down-back... depending on context. Jul 18 at 7:20
  • It could be worth expanding this answer since I feel like the Romantic approach to the turn more often starts from the target note? as paul suggests, and as covered in music.stackexchange.com/questions/116704/… Aug 3 at 12:43

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