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Here it is telling the performer to play a 16th note A before the G. That would make all 4 notes in the beat 16th notes. Why wouldnt a composer just write the 16th notes?

  • Related question concerning ornamentation in general.
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 2 at 18:54

3 Answers 3


Four sixteenth notes would imply that all four are part of the melody. The appoggiatura notation makes clear the initial note is ornamental.

This rationale applies generally to ornaments: they are indicated to be ornamental as opposed to core melodic elements.

  • 1
    I can expand on this when I have time, but one point is that there’s more conveyed by an appoggiatura than just timing. There are implications about stress patterns. And of course “ornamental” isn’t necessarily the same as “optional!” Commented Jul 2 at 19:57
  • In that case aren't all dissonances "ornamental"? textures are full of ornamental notes that are notated as expected. Why consider this dissonance ornamental? and not another? You say "core melodic elements" but what about all other elements of figuration that are not "core melodic elements" yet are notated fully (dissonances, passing tones, chordal skips etc"). It seems that a good anwser would explain why other elements of figuration are notated fully while these aren't.
    – armani
    Commented Jul 3 at 7:11
  • 1
    @armani "Ornamental" specifically means notes that are purely decorative. Dissonances, passing tone, chordal skips are not (necessarily) ornaments; they're just terms for describing non-chord tones. An appoggiatura can be an accented melodic dissonance or an ornamental elaboration of a principal melodic pitch. One could certainly use an ornamental appoggiatura to decorate a melodic appoggiatura.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 3 at 7:19
  • Youre right, dissonances arent ornaments but they have the same hierachy in the voice leading as this ornament does. Maybe I hear music differently, but to me those "ornamental" notes are as much a decoration of an underlying melodic line as are the many other accented non-chord tones found elsewhere in this and every other piece I hear. I can't see why one would be ornamental and the other not. Could you show me an example of this ornamental appogg decorating a melodic appogg as it might help me see things your (the conventional) way.
    – armani
    Commented Jul 3 at 10:42
  • 1
    @armani, regarding dissonances v. ornaments, keep in mind the difference between what is essential harmonically versus essential melodically. While things ornamental and NCT are subordinate in the harmonic sense and can be excluded while maintaining a clear sense of the harmony, you cannot then consider them in the same subordinate and unessential sense melodically where they can be the very thing to make melodies unique and expressive. Commented Jul 9 at 18:25

You're right that, rhythmically, this comes out the same as four sixteenth notes. And your question comes up often—why not just write that?

One answer is that an appoggiatura is a specific gesture. It's a specific kind of ornament, with an upper non-chordal tone, and it comes with certain performance conventions. It often places a strong weight on the first note and a feeling of lightness and release on the resolution. This can be expressed in volume or maybe even with a hint of unequal timing. It also links the two notes as a single gesture. A slur is usually printed but even if it were not it would be assumed. The two notes of the appoggiatura act like a single note in terms of the flow of the piece.

Even in situations in which the appoggiatura ripples by rapidly amid many other equal notes, and there isn't really time or mood for melodramatic emphasis, it's still used to clue the performer into the underlying intent.

  • "It often places a strong weight on the first note and a feeling of lightness and release on the resolution." Well, yes, but only in so much as any note played on the beat gets more weight than one played, well, not on the beat.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jul 10 at 22:09

The note that is part of the main harmony is notated normally, the auxiliary note is notated as an ornament. In your example the harmony of the first beat is a C chord, of the second is a G chord. The notes G and D belong to the harmony, the notes A and E are decorative.

Why write it this way rather than literally? Maybe it stems from figured bass notation. The accompaniment might have been a bass line plus the equivalent of chord symbols. Emphasizing the basic harmony would be helpful.

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