Friday, June 9th, 2023

Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a


Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a

Embellishments in Music - Article Header

Scales in Music – a Tonal System

Music Theory Level 3

Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a

 Embellishments in Music

In our previous article series, Expression in Music, we discussed words, phrases and many of the symbols which affect the emotional impact of music. The variety of tools of music notation in that article series greatly increased and in that sense we embellished the composer’s toolbox. The idea of adding sonic value to a melody through the use of a group of symbols, marks and through other composition efforts expands further the collection of tools a composer has available to them when composing expressive music. This mini-series focuses on a category of marks and symbols known as embellishments, which includes a broad group of notation ornaments that directly influence and in many ways cause expressive music.

The close relationships between expression marks, the performer’s skill, the character and quality of the musical instrument, performance techniques, particularly articulations, embellishments or musical ornaments, all of these are direct and indirect influences on the resulting tonal characteristics of the sounds produced during a performance. Collectively, they are also part of the complete set of the components of musicality and which in total comprise the concept of musical expression, adding emotion to music through effective notation practices.


Our overall grand article series titled Scales in Music – A Tonal System continues with a look at two categories of embellishments that are used in music notation. The first is the ornaments and the second is a group of symbols and marks which fall in the category of performance techniques. These are called articulations. Both collections of marks and symbols alter, add to or embellish, in one fashion or another, the basic notes and rests which make up a musical composition. What ornaments bring to the composition is added color, variation and movement to music in a broad sense, and more specifically, the embellishments add beauty and depth to the melody within the composition.

In my perspective, as a composer, the embellishments are a collection of specific tools which provide a variety of enhancements to simple melody. Further, they provide additional musical instructions to the performers which extend or reduce a melodic sequence of notes and their respective values. In that sense, the embellishments are necessary tools for use by the composer of music. Embellishments are a sub-category of tools used in the application of music and inclusive in the study of music theory.

The embellishments are often referred to as musical ornaments and this is the focus of Scales in Music – A Tonal System – Embellishments – Part 24. This article is the introduction to the embellishments and it is part 24a of the mini-series.

Due to the quantity of ornaments and the number of articles necessary to define and describe them, an article directory has been created. For ease in navigation, you can click on the link below to reach this directory. An additional link is also provided at the bottom of this page. The article directory is part 24b of this mini-series.

Embellishments – Part 24b – Article Directory

Introduction to Embellishments

You will find the use of the terms embellishment and ornament to be somewhat interchangeable throughout these articles. In actuality embellishments are a collection of ornaments whereas an ornament is a specific type of embellishment. Both are used in singular and plural forms and each can represent or identify symbols, marks, or other methods of music notation which modify by adding to or reducing the duration of a note or a small group of notes.

The Distinction Between Embellishments and Articulations

The group of embellishments and the collection of articulations are two vital and highly important groups of notation marks a composer uses to communicate his or her sonic messages that cause or in some way influence our listeners in various spiritual, emotional and physical ways.

Specifically, ornaments are a collection of marks and symbols, placed within a musical score by the composer, which embellish or take away from a basic melody or melodic theme(s). The marks, symbols and other forms of presentation of the embellishments are placed within the musical score by the composer using conventional music notation methods. Embellishments are directly tied to duration, rhythm and harmony while the ornaments decorate the melody.

Articulations are also principally placed within the score by the composer however, rather than being focused on adding to a melodic theme in the same sense as ornaments, articulations are based on the means or by the method(s) in which the music is actually played. They are more of an instruction rather than an embellishment and they lay at the performer’s position in music production however they are also some of the tools used by a composer when writing music. Therefore, articulations are performance techniques rather than embellishments. Articulations are directly tied to the methods used for sound production on an instrument during the performance of the music.

It is difficult to separate the impact of the use of embellishments and articulations without an understanding of each. Also, to present only one of these topics as being either more or less influential, during the performance of the music than the other. This would leave a gaping hole in music notation which would limit the ability of the composer to express his or her musical ideas and thus cause the music to suffer. In many ways embellishments and articulations are inextricably intertwined and in a sense inseparable when discussing, listening or performing music, with direct or implied expression as an underlying focal point.

However, by taking a closer look at each of the ornaments followed by the collection of performance techniques it becomes clear that each individual topic is of vital importance for gaining a high level of emotional impact on the listener. Embellishments and performance techniques do in fact interplay with one another on an intimate level, intimate in the sense of being closely tied to one another and in many cases jointly causing the desired emotional impact when the music is being performed.

At a minimum, I hope to convey that collectively, ornaments and articulations beautify music by embellishing the basic composition and that each is independent and co-dependent on the other to create music with a high degree of musicality.

Ornaments and articulations are performance marks and symbols used in music notation. The ornaments are marks or symbols that direct the performers to modify or alter music, in some way shape or form, typically embellishing the melody of the composition. Articulations directly impact the tonal qualities and character of the music and/or by their designation affect the method of performance of the written music. Together, these embellishments improve the communication between the composer, the performer and the audience.

With that said the Embellishments – Part 24 article series focuses on the various ornaments and their respective symbols whereas the topic of musical articulations will be presented in a separate article series titled, Performance Techniques – Articulations – Part 25. Both are very important additions to our overall Scales in Music – A Tonal System presentation. These two topics along with the material presented in the mini-series Expression in Music expand the number of tools in the composer’s tool box. All of these tools are used to elaborate on and to communicate the musical ideas within the mind of the composer.


Our overall article series, Scales in Music – a Tonal System, continues with this series, Embellishments – Part 24. For those who have been following my writings to date, it is likely that by now your understanding of the Tonal System of Music is becoming a little clearer as we progress through the components, symbols, and other marks, included in practice of music notation.

Our choice to present a collection of articles describing those tools which first establishes the necessary foundation supporting the definitions and the underlying principals involved in music theory while teaching us the meaning of the written words and the symbolic languages of music at the same time and in a multi-sensory way.

Further, we believe the sequence of our articles to date, and relative to our upcoming presentations, is providing a more complete foundation when preparing to learn about musical scales and their use. More importantly, this foundation enables the student to learn more quickly when moving into the composition side of a person’s music education.

Consequently, my focus is to introduce you to the components of music first rather than jumping right in with studies on scales, melody, harmony and the concepts, principals, structures and forms which underlay music composition. All of these require a foundation of knowledge which can be found first in a study of the elements and components of music within the study of music theory.

Also, it is through an understanding of the human factor (the emotional aspects of music), the symbolic language of music and an understanding and use of scales, melody, harmony and form (the physical and technical factors of composition), that when collectively considered and overlaid onto the structures and forms involved within the principals and practice of creation (the spiritual side of composition), that a composer truly becomes highly appreciated for what they do. The real benefactor in all of this is the audience, who, through the act of musical performance, enjoys the fruits of this type of labor. Secondarily, real satisfaction in creating expressive music comes to those composers that know, understand and use these concepts simultaneously and effectively.

With a different focus and in regards to this article series, the use of embellishments is of great help and very supportive in writing music that is highly musical and expressive in nature. In that way and by their use you increase your ability as a composer to say what you intend to say on an emotional level and to say it more effectively and in an elegant manner, by and through your musical manuscripts.

Embellishing Music – A Three Part Focus

Embellishments fall into three main categories. The categories are the graces, augmentation and diminutions and the elaboration of pauses and cadenzas. For purposes of this article series, each category will be broadly defined and the specific ornaments within each category will also be defined and demonstrated both visually and aurally and supported by written and descriptive commentary.

I will add that due to the complexities of use, the shear number of available embellishments and their respective descriptions, that all of them will not be included for this internet based presentation however, the majority are included.

Prerequisite Articles

The nature of music and its emotional impact on the human psyche is a broad subject which extends far beyond the scope of this article series as sound and vibration impact us in a physical manner which can cause various emotional reactions. Although our psychic and physical responses to sound and music are important to think about the subject will not be touched upon within this particular article series.

You will find the beginnings of my writings about this by following the Music and Your Health articles. The links to these articles are found in the right sidebar directory.

Music is a form of communication. Music notation marks and symbols or the symbolic language of music, as I call it, is the form or the device(s) which enables communication, that type of communication necessary between the composer, the conductor and the performer as needed in order to produce highly expressive music. The final phase of that communication occurs at the performance where the audience receives it. The more you learn about music notation and its symbols, the more able you become at doing so.

The thrust and focus of this website Music Theory and Composition is to inform and to instruct those interested in becoming a composer of music and those who wish to understand music more thoroughly (including you as an observer or listener) which, when fully understood, can greatly increase your satisfaction as a composer and/or one’s enjoyment when listening to music. My writings simply reflect my own thoughts about the concepts within music and the role these concepts, ideas and symbols play in music composition as I know, use and understand them.

With that said, it is best to review The Components of Musicality and the complete 4-part article mini-series Expression in Music. This mini-series provides a collection of tools which enhance the emotional impact of music. In that way the study of embellishments adds an additional dimension to the information included in that mini-series.

 It is also a good idea to review Note Identification, The Musical Note, The Musical Rest – Silence in Music – and the Introduction to Violin Articulations as these articles will refresh your knowledge of the fundamental elements of music. Your review will help to support the overall information included in this mini-series since the embellishments are such a vital part of music, musicality and full musical expression.

Lastly, I want to add that my articles are progressive starting at the very basics, the staff, note values, rests, measures and the lines and marks used to define a measure. They progress with each article building a body of information relative to music notation and leading to music composition.

Certainly you are free to skip around to any article you have an interest in however, in my belief it is best to read through them as you would a textbook, referencing back and forth from previously studied parts or chapters as needed, or as linked to, in support of your current study. In that way nothing is left out in your personal quest to become better at composition, notation and/or understanding music.

Embellishments Introduction – Conclusion

First, the link below takes you to a list of articles included in this mini-series. For ease in navigation, links and descriptions to each article are provided on the directory page. If you should get lost you may want to use the site map or the search box to help you to navigate throughout this growing website.

Secondly, we will begin our presentations about embellishments with Part 24c, describing the categories of ornaments and some basic generalizations about the marks within each ornamental category. It is important to follow the articles in sequence as one builds onto the next, etc.

Please proceed to the Embellishments – Article Directory – Part 24b

Performance Techniques – Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a

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