Mikrokosmos, No. 102 - excerpt

What are these notes about? I had to learn this piece in 8-27-1963 in my first year at the music conservatory in Bern.

The notes look like square notation, but the music was written in 20th. century.

It’s nr. 102 of Bela Bartok’s “mikrokosmos”.

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    How do you keep that l.h. chord sounding? Even pedalling it won't last that long. And why is it written with no key sig., when the B chord is a clue?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 20:09
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    @ Tim, good thought, that’s the question. The title will tell you. But concerning the key: in many pieces Bartok doesn’t set a key, however tonality is clear. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 20:28
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    I neither knew that diamonds are used in string instruments as notation of dinamics: this is actually the title of mikroksmos 102. And the instruction “press down without sounding” is written at the left bottom of the page. Above the first trade of B in the beginning you can read the hint 1) Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 20:46
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    @AlbrechtHügli Diamond noteheads are used in string instruments for harmonics not dynamics. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 21:57
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    There's a "1)" notated above that chord. Doesn't the footnote say? Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 8:20

1 Answer 1


I believe the square notes (usually called diamonds) indicate keys that are silently depressed and held down. This technique allows those notes to ring sympathetically when the right hand notes are played. This specific piece is mentioned in this Wikipedia entry:


The relevant passage:

Composers such as Béla Bartók started to look at the piano as a more percussive instrument and explored various techniques to achieve percussive effects. His Bagatelles and Mikrokosmos (the series of works for the instruction of young pianists) both contain unusual instructions to the pianist. He even used special notation for certain of them: "hold keys silently" is indicated by square note heads rather than the usual round ones.

Lastly, the "1)" above first chord probably indicates a composer's note somewhere in the score, so that will give you the definitive answer.

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    @user45266 Yes, this answer is correct. Just a note, although I see why you describe them as squares, these noteheads are generally referred to as diamonds. The same diamond noteheads are often used for harmonics on string instruments. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 20:39
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    @PatMuchmore Yes, I've usually heard them referred to as diamonds as well, but both the OP and the Wikipedia article used the term "square." Truly square noteheads (basically like what's shown but rotated 45 degrees) also exist.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 20:59
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    So, that would be a way to excite harmonics on a piano. Very cool.
    – user50691
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 22:05
  • Yes, you know what happens if you press the keys slowly down without playing. “Hold the keys silently”. The strings of the piano are open. The sff in the first bar effects them to vibrate and they still resonate to the soft piano tune. That’s what Tim was wondering how pedaling could be hold so long. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 22:49
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    @Tim I know this was a while ago, but I just got a new digital piano, and it does indeed simulate this effect! It's a Kurweil Forte, and it has a setting called "string resonance." I don't think this is at all standard, but at least I can now say it's possible. Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 14:24

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