Thursday, June 8th, 2023

Embellishments – The Smooth Graces – Part 24e


Smooth Graces – Embellishments – Music Theory Level 3 – Part 24e

Smooth Graces - Ornaments in Music - Article Header

Scales in Music – a Tonal System

Music Theory Level 3

Embellishments - The GracesEmbellishments – The Smooth Graces – Part 24e

The smooth graces are a collection of ornaments used in music notation which adds to or embellishes a motif, melodic theme and/or the full melody in a music composition. Each smooth grace symbol, mark or other method of presentation, provides explicit instructions associated to one principal note of the melody. They appear in the written manuscript as miniature notes, either showing as a single or a group of notes. A smooth grace also can have from one to many notes within the embellishment.

Although the smooth graces impact only one principal note, they have an influence on the overall beauty and character of a part of a melody such as a melodic phrase or they periodically adorn multiple principal notes thus affecting the entire melody of the composition. This is accomplished by utilizing the smooth grace symbols, marks or other methods of presentation of these ornaments.


Embellishments fall into three main categories. The categories are the graces, augmentation and diminutions and the elaboration of pauses and cadenzas. This information was previously presented in detail in the article titled Embellishments – Introduction – Part 24a. This article extends the information about them. A series of six articles are included to describe the smooth grace ornaments. Immediately following the smooth graces are the shake graces to complete the embellishments mini-series.

Throughout the mini-series, definitions for the included ornaments are presented in a written format along with both a graphical representation and an audio representation so to more fully describe each, in this multi-sensory way. Closely related smooth grace ornaments will be compared as well to clarify and to identify any distinctions which delineate them, one from the other. The majority of the smooth grace ornaments are included in this mini-series and they provide a very nice collection of tools for the composer.

Also, it is important to reference the previous article in this series Embellishments – Foundation and Guidelines – Part 24d which includes the base foundation and the guidelines for all embellishments including those in the smooth grace sub-category of ornaments. The details are relevant to their usage. We continue now with a review and our presentation about the smooth graces.

The Ornaments – Category 1 – Graces – Sub-class, Smooth Graces

The Smooth Grace Ornaments

There are two main categories of graces, smooth and shake graces. These two types of grace embellishments include a variety of specific ornaments within each of these categories.

The most commonly used smooth graces are the single or simple grace note, the slide, the mordent, the appoggiatura and the acciaccatura.

Smooth Grace Ornaments – Size and Symbols

Smooth Graces - Chart of Size Comaprison - Grace versus Normal Note SizeIt is easy to distinguish between the full size or standard note in comparison to the grace note and its associated symbols. The chart above was created solely for the purpose of demonstrating the physical size difference between the grace note and normal size notes.

Smooth Grace – Production and Movement

For the stringed instruments, the general method of production for the smooth graces is accomplished first by depressing an appropriate string to the fretboard or fingerboard, in an associated position or fret relative to the desired pitch. After placing a finger and depressing the string to the fingerboard, the same string is either; plucked, strummed or bowed to cause it to vibrate producing the designated pitch for the grace note. Immediately thereafter, while maintaining the finger pressure, the performer quickly and gracefully slides the finger along the fingerboard to a new and different position or fret, ending on the pitch of the principal note of the melody. The principal note is then plucked, strummed or bowed.

Note: The use of the words up or down is used with regards to pitch on a stringed musical instrument or on the staff itself. With the exception of left handed guitars most often the movement can be described spatially as from left to right. For the cello it literally means up or down, since the cello is typically held vertically. On a violin or viola down would mean moving closer to the tailpiece and  towards the performer for defining up. Keeping in mind that up or down also refers to pitch.

Other instruments require a modification to this method of production for smooth graces and some instruments are not capable of producing the smooth grace at all. The primary reason is structural in nature.

For example, many percussion instruments fall into the unpitched percussion instrument category. This means they are not capable of producing a variety of notes within a musical scale. Generally, they are tuned to one tone. The snare drum for instance cannot play a B note or a C note, for example. It is only capable of producing the note the snare drum is tuned to, albeit there is a wide variety of tonal qualities made possible through the use of various performance techniques, sticks and brushes. Even with its tonal variety, the pitch remains the same on the snare drum.

With this idea in mind, as a composer it is necessary to know which instruments can play certain types of ornaments as every musical instrument is not capable of producing every single ornament. This is however, a study beyond the scope of this article. I merely wanted to make you aware of the fact that not all instruments can produce all embellishments or ornaments, including the simple smooth grace ornament.

This concludes our general overview of the smooth graces as ornaments or embellishments as used in music composition.

Next Up

We begin a more detailed review of each ornament within the smooth grace category beginning with a thorough look at the grace note.

Please proceed to Embellishments – The Grace Note – Part 24f

Embellishments – The Smooth Graces – Part 24e

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