Why are many simple appoggiaturas not spelled out?

E.g., a quarter with an 8th note appoggiatura which would give the same as two 8th notes.

One could notate many passages using appoggiaturas but they are not. Hence there must be some distinction between using them and not because in some cases they actually obscure the notation rather than just notating them out directly.


e.g., a descending scale in 8ths could be written using any number of appoggiaturas or just 8ths. The wiki page suggests there is no real difference, but if that is the case then why obscure the notation in some cases but not others.

The only real reason I can think of is that they explicitly distinguish important notes, the principle note. If one plays the piece without the appoggiaturas then it would "work". When notated out this distinction is removed and one has to use theory or ear to know which note is the principle note.


At the historical period when appoggiaturas were a common form of notation, all performers were expected to add their own ornamentation to the music as written.

However there was a convention that performers should never "add ornaments to a written ornament." Therefore, paradoxically, if a composer really intended two equal-length notes with no added ornaments, the clearest notation was to write the first note as an appoggiatura rather than as a full-size note. Otherwise, the performer would be likely to add more ornamentation to the written notes.

As the practice of adding unwritten ornamentation declined during the 18th century, the need for written appoggiaturas disappeared and their use declined.

  • Yeah, I've heard this argument before. I wonder if really that performers in the past simply made a lot of mistakes and the easy way to combat it was "I'm just ornamenting!". Although, it is a practical answer and more likely correct or partially correct. I still there is probably more fundamental answer though. E.g., where did such notation come from? Who were the first to use it and why? May 14 '18 at 19:34
  • @IntrepidMystery I'm sure that bad performers did that all the time, and good ones didn't. Nothing really changes, after all. :)
    – BobRodes
    May 14 '18 at 23:25

The important note for an appoggiatura is actually not the principal note. The principal note (written big) is the conclusion point and basically the reference for the next note. The important note is the suspension, however. Rules for execution tend to state that the length of the appoggiatura is at least the written duration. When there are several voices, it sometimes makes sense to prolong the appoggiatura in that manner in order to not synchronize the principal note onset with faster equal-weighted notes in the accompaniment and thus tie down a lyric line's accents with its accompaniment.

Spelling the notes as appoggiatura and main note gives the player/singer explicit license to execute things in a manner decoupled from regular note changes in the accompaniment.

  • If we are given explicit license to modify the rhythm then we are we "forced" to play them certain ways. Everyone plays them the same way more or less and some music has the ornaments written out while others do not. It seems that there are other more valid reasons... maybe lost to history. May 13 '18 at 23:09

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