So recently I have got this piece for a classical guitar (probably originally for some kind of lute) - Chaconne by Anonymous from Schwerin

It's full of mysterious parentheses, and I have failed to find their exact meaning online, so maybe someone could help me here.


I'm talking about those left and right parentheses written before or after some notes.

The closest thing I could find was d'Anglabert's harpsichord ornament table. It features some similarly looking ornaments, but there is no right parenthesis because his notation covers multiple cases with a left parenthesis and preceding note.

It could be related to lute notation, but I couldn't find any examples of that.

Maybe someone has some info about these strange parentheses?


  • I guess, it is similar to a breathing mark of the woodwinds, a small marking where the new phrase starts. (In most cases it just marks the final eightth as kind of upbeat). I'm sure, one of our guitar experts will provide something more substantial.
    – guidot
    Nov 14, 2019 at 8:28
  • 2
    Please embed the images in the question, so they can be seen directly without opening a link. Nov 14, 2019 at 10:32
  • I find it strange that the parentheses go in both directions. Nov 14, 2019 at 15:01

4 Answers 4


"Anon" here does not imply there is no "exact version." The composer or copyist referred to as "Anonymous of Schwerin" was most certainly a particular individual from that town. The only "anonymous" thing about him (almost certainly him, not her) was that we don't know his name.

I would guess that the original manuscript was written in tablature. The piece may be from this collection, for example: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49537432/D-Schwerin-641-Baroque-lute-tabulatur-manuscript-Schwerin-Ms-641

Just like much modern tab, early tablature was often careless about rhythmic notation. Note that the MS link above has tab which is liberally sprinkled with dots - whatever they were intended to mean! Sample page attached.

enter image description here


My guess would be that the parentheses indicate that something is optional. Since most of them occur on a dot before a lower note I'd say that they indicate that its up to you to decide whether to hold the first note over the lower one or not.

Also since the piece is Anon, probably there's no exact version and so on the top line in your example the parenth in the group of three quavers might indicate that the second is optional and that the first could have longer duration.

I should add that parenthesis used like this or similarly is a common editorial practice to show disagreement across various sources.


So finally I've found the answer. The piece in question is Chaconne in G major by Anonymous from Schwerin. It's from the book Guitar Music from 16th - 18th Centuries, vol. 2 edited and transcribed by Adalbert Quadt. In the book he gives instructions on how to play ornaments:

Ornamentation constitutes an important element in music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It's purpose is to adorn the melody and enlived individual parts. Guitar composers used the signs c and ɔ, for instance, before or after a note. These little hooks, used here for our tablature pieces, should be interpreted as follows: c in front of a note is an appoggiatura from the lower second on to the main note, ɔ after a note is an appoggiatura from the upper second on to the main note.

Later on, he also adds:

In practice, Baroque music-making certainly called for other ornaments than the simple appoggiatura.

Then bunch of examples are given: simple appoggiaturas as discribed in the first quote, but they could also be interpreted more liberally, examples show note structures similar to mordents ant trills.


This parantheses mean ghost notes:

Ghost notes and optional notes

The best description of a ghost note, is a note that is felt but not heard. You will play the note softer, and without emphasis. The note is usually in-between 2 parentheses. In addition, notes in parentheses could mean optional notes. For instance, if a particular riff is repeated, but sometimes the guitar player throws in some additional notes, those additional notes may be in parentheses. Do keep in mind the use of parentheses for bent notes as well.


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