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For example, from Bach's two part invention no. 11 (G minor):

Example of musical score containing this symbol

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    Google search is wonderful ... but only if you know what to type into the search box. (Not sure that "sideways 's'" gets good results!)
    – Old John
    Nov 15, 2015 at 0:03
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    @OldJohn - 'music signs symbols' works well.
    – Tim
    Nov 15, 2015 at 8:37
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    @Tim And now thanks to this question it works for "sideways s" too. This site is part of that knowledge database you guys are suggesting to use, don't forget that. Nov 16, 2015 at 1:53
  • Thank you for posting this question. It helped me find exactly what I was looking for. May 17, 2018 at 22:32

1 Answer 1

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That would be a "turn" - a common ornament in the baroque period.

You can find a (fairly basic) explanation here on Wikipedia,

and there are more detailed explanations in many books and articles on Baroque ornamentation.

You can also see Bach's own explanation here on the Dolmetsch website.

Here is Bach's own explanation, from the Dolmetsch website, showing symbols for different ornamentation figures that were used in this style period, with an example of how each might be played. The "turn" is number 4 on this chart.

enter image description here

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    What your graph gives as a regular mordant is in fact an inverted mordant. A regular mordant does not have the line through it. It also goes up where the inverted mordant goes down.
    – Neil Meyer
    Nov 15, 2015 at 5:54
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    @NeilMeyer, that is, in fact, the only kind of mordent there was in the Baroque. Upper mordents didn't exist. The sign you call a mordent is used for a trill starting on the upper auxiliary. That's Bach's table of ornaments, by the way, directly from his Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann. You won't really find upper mordents until roughly Carl Czerny's time.
    – user16935
    Nov 15, 2015 at 6:19
  • That being Bach's table, you are going to play the turn in a similar fashion to what is marked as "cadence" above, starting from the upper auxiliary.
    – user16935
    Nov 15, 2015 at 6:29
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    Note: This is true for J.S. Bach and contemporaries, but for most later composers, these ornaments are executed differently. In particular, the turn is generally 5 notes, with the principal note played first. Also, you often see the ornament not directly over the note, but over the empty space after it, which means that principal note should be held for a while before the turn. Nov 15, 2015 at 14:29
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    @DarrelHoffman, true - again roughly around Czerny's generation. Baroque (and High Classical) notions of ornaments involving the upper auxiliary tended to see them as a form of appoggiatura. There seems to have been a shift over time from seeing ornaments as a kind of dissonance to seeing them as decoration. The delayed turn, though, was current all through the periods under discussion.
    – user16935
    Nov 15, 2015 at 18:10

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