I'm trying to play Brahms' Hungarian dance №11 and there is a technical question. How do I play a mordent from the 4th measure? Whether both notes should be played with mordent or just the upper one? Could someone make me a hint of fingering please?

I've attached the scores below.

Brahms - Hungarian dance 11

  • 3
    Just double checking, are we talking about measure 3? Because there's an 8th note pick up before the first measure which could look like a full measure... ;-)
    – user3169
    Nov 28, 2012 at 6:20

2 Answers 2


In these sorts of cases, I trust the community of professional and semi-professional musicians more than my own music history knowledge. (Read: I searched youtube for several videos and saw what they did).

For the uninitiated who stumble upon this question: a mordent is the proper name for the squiggle above the staff in measure 4. It is similar to a trill, but starts on the note in question, and only alternates with the note above it once.

In every instance I watched (a different piano solo arrangement, an orchestral arrangement, A 4-hand piano arrangement, and a piano/violin arrangement), the initial mordent is played between the D and the C. Most of the videos play the mordent before the beat, with one playing on the beat. Most of those videos included both the top and bottom notes in the mordent. Further support for including both notes comes from observing the grace notes in measures 6, 7, 10, and 11; it seems like the intent is to have both notes involved in the ornaments.

If you can play a sixth with a 3-1 stretch, I would recommend playing the mordent with 5-2 and 4-1, playing the third diad with 3-1. Keeping the mordent light will help you play it quickly. If this is too difficult, it's acceptable (especially below a professional level) to involve only the top note in the mordent.

It's worth noting that many piano teachers advocate first learning the piece without any ornaments, and then adding them in at the end. This is largely to avoid any timing issues, as these ornaments typically should not alter the timing of the other notes. If you notice that any ornaments are bogging you down or screwing up the timing of the other notes, it might be worthwhile to leave them out for the time being.

  • 1
    There's a trill in there???
    – Luke_0
    Nov 23, 2012 at 1:25
  • @Luke, I wanted to avoid using musical jargon (I mean, everybody knows what a trill is. Who has ever heard of a mordent outside of a music school?). In any case, I agree that we should probably use correct musical terms. Edited and added a definition. If anyone can improve my 5-second definition, please do!
    – Babu
    Nov 23, 2012 at 3:50
  • Thank you for your detailed answer! This is really a little difficult for me to involve both notes in the ornament so I will alternate only the top one as you advised to. Thanks!
    – Dmitry
    Nov 23, 2012 at 18:54
  • 1
    I believe this is a trillo, and not a mordent. A mordent would look the same, only with a vertical line over the centre.
    – 11684
    Nov 24, 2012 at 8:08
  • 1
    @11684, the nomenclature is confusing and has changed from the Baroque era to the Romantic. To distinguish the manner in which the ornament is played, it is often (but not always) called a Trillo in Baroque music and an upper mordent in Romantic music. The symbol you describe is simply called a mordent in Baroque music and a lower mordent in Romantic music. The hows and whys of this change are well out of the scope of this answer, but the wikipedia article I linked has a brief overview.
    – Babu
    Nov 25, 2012 at 3:44

John Thompson's Modern Course For The Piano The Fourth Grade Book p. 54 Ornaments: The Mordent has a vertical line through the middle of it that is written directly over and above the written note and includes the written note and the note immediately below and then plays the written note again and this must be played within the time frame given according to the time signature and the time given by the written note. The example given in the text is in a 4/4 time signature and a quarter note Treble E is the written note to begin the Mordent that is to be played thus: E as a 32nd note followed with a D as a 32nd note followed by an E as a 16th note tied to an E as an 8th note all played within the time frame of a quarter note.

An Inverted Mordent is played as the above with the same timing, but it differs in two ways: It's symbol does not have a vertical line and the written note is played followed by the first note above it then like above, the written note is played again.

Therefore in the Key of C Major on your music score it is directing you to play in 2/4 time (where each quarter note is equivalent to 1 beat, an 8th note 1/2 beat, a 16th note 1/4 beat, a 32nd note is equivalent to 1/8th of a beat, a 64th note=1/16th of a beat). Your score, however, requests an Inverted Mordent to be played within the time frame of a 16th note, so play very lightly and quickly a Trebble C as a 64th note, followed by a D as a 64th note, followed by a C as a 32nd note. Happy ornamenting!

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