There's a variety of notations that indicate various types of accent - tenuto, staccato, martellato and the like.

But what notation would I use to indicate that I want notes to be deliberately unaccented. For instance, in a piece for brass performance, that the notes should start with breath alone, rather than tongued, so the attack is slow. This is to write ensemble textures that change smoothly over time rather than having thumps where players join in with tongued attacks.

I realise I could write text next to the passage, but that method wouldn't work if I want only certain notes within the passage to be unaccented.

  • 2
    You might consider re-wording (or re-conceptualizing?) what you want. Most top brass players would respond "Well, I'm already starting all of my pitches with air alone!" – Richard Oct 5 '17 at 13:22
  • "...starting with breath alone..." this is only possible if the notes are already marked with some sort of separation, as opposed to a slurred line. Leaving brass players aside, most other instrumentalists recognize that a note without marking is not to be stressed. – Carl Witthoft Oct 6 '17 at 11:24

There's a marking—borrowed from poetry I believe—that has become relatively standard to indicate a note that should be unaccented. I've seen it in Schoenberg especially, but some other composers as well, and it looks like this:


It's used specifically for notes that would normally have some kind of metric emphasis (such as, in this example, the downbeat of a measure), when that emphasis should be avoided. The marking exists in notation programs, however I think that's because it's a standard organ-specific marking for using the heel of the foot rather than the toe. Although the "heel" version of the marking always goes on the notehead side of the note, I've only seen the "unaccent" written above the note regardless of stem direction.

However, I'm not sure this is the best marking for your specific situation, because I don't think a tongueless attack would necessarily be my choice just to take away a default sense of accentuation. To me, not using the tongue seems like a bigger deal than that, and I would be tempted to use a different notehead to represent it. Various types of tongueless attacks (and or pitchless air-noise) are sometimes indicated like this:


Or with a similar notehead but a vertical line instead of diagonal. However, I really think you could use any kind of notehead (such as a triangle or a diamond) to indicate the effect, as long as you don't use it for a different meaning elsewhere.

The only potential problem is that none of this is standard or common enough to just use without explanation. You will have to either explain your notation in the preface to the score or as a footnote to the first instance of it.

  • +1 I love this sign and I wish it were much, much more standard! I use it all the time in choral and piano music, and it is as important as accent marks, if not more important, for achieving good expressivity. – Kilian Foth Oct 7 '17 at 6:32

Write 'soft attack'. Let the player decide what mixture of breath alone and soft tonguing best achieves this.

Beware of the 'bend' articulation @Pat Muchmore suggests. Brass players in particular are used to this meaning something quite different.

enter image description here

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    I think the bend mark and the heel are very distinct and wouldn't be confused. Bend looks like a slur line above a notehead, so it's a much wider symbol than heel. – Brian THOMAS Oct 5 '17 at 14:56

I can state as a trumpet player that I would expect to see this written as "without accent" or "senza marcato" to denote an entire passage without accent, although I would not expect to see this written except following a passage that was accented.

To indicate that some notes should be accented while others should not, rather than a mark over the unaccented notes I would simply expect to see explicit accents over the notes that should be accented, and nothing otherwise.

It is typical (as a comment above notes) for brass players not to accent notes unless instructed otherwise, and far from being restricted to "top brass players" this is standard technique which is frequently taught very early to beginning students. It may need to be emphasized to players without much experience or proficiency, but such considerations are typically for a conductor (not transcriber).

I'd go so far as to say that a trained classical trumpet player will know exactly and unambiguously what you intend regarding accents if you follow what I have outlined; the vast majority of published classical works use these conventions.


Logically just cross accent to deny it:

enter image description here

  • It's an interesting idea - but off the top of my head I don't see how Sibelius could do this sort of notation. Unless there's a character that already has > and / combined, Sibelius would try to position them so they don't collide. – Brian THOMAS May 2 at 12:06
  • This is not a standard method, and it will likely cause more confusion for the performers. – Peter May 2 at 13:34

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