I'm currently transcribing some baroque guitar music. For some pieces the performer is expected to improvise a rhythmic ornamentation, e.g., for a notated quarter note you are free to play several shorter notes (that together take the same time as the quarter note). Although I know that baroque music grants a lot of freedom to the performer, the rhythmic ornamentation for these sections is especially important. Playing the pieces in the way they are notated would rather sound dull and boring and is certainly not the way the composers intended their music to be played.

This leads me to my question: Is there some more or less commonly used notation to convey this kind of expectation for rhythmic ornaments in sheet music? I would rather use some symbol or indication that has some kind of tradition instead of inventing something.

I already know of the indication "ad lib". However, I believe that this indication refers to an even greater freedom of interpretation, and in fact I already use it in the sense of the second meaning listed in the corresponding Wikipedia article ("to improvise a melodic line fitting the general structure prescribed by the passage's written notes or chords").

  • I wonder if you're considering ornaments, which were very commonly used in that period.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 12:19
  • Of course, a player may use rhythmic ornaments like "trillo" or "repicco" that apparently were commonly used for this kind of baroque music. But I don't want to express "Use exactly this ornament here" but instead "Use whatever rhythmic ornamentation you want to make the rhythm more interesting" because in the former case I simply could write the implied rhythm in the sheet.
    – mka
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


I would probably write an introductory text with examples of how the music could be interpreted and improvised. A very experienced player of the type of music would not need that introduction as it sort of is part of the idiom. So you would most probably be targeting people wanting to learn how to perform the music as intended but not knowing exactly how. The introduction could referr to sources outside the music score itself, and perhaps point to well-known interpretations where the musician could listen.

It is possible to indicate one possible interpretation as an ossia staff. But without the explanation it would be a bit limiting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ossia

As a simular example, if you write figured bass in a score, you might elect to write an example of an interpreted version, but also include the original notation as well as a pointer to a good instruction on how to perform it.

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