Grace Notes that Aren’t Grace Notes

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about grace notes that aren’t grace notes. Sometimes students think that they’re looking at grace notes and they’re not grace notes. What am I talking about? Well, first of all, what are grace notes? Grace notes are the little tiny notes with diagonal lines going through them just before other notes. You typically play them very quickly. They can be played either on the beat or before the beat. It depends upon what works well. Sometimes it’s easier to play them on the beat. Sometimes it’s easier to play them slightly before the beat. The key is to play them quickly.

When are grace notes not grace notes? How do you know?

Sometimes you will see these little notes that look like grace notes, but they aren’t grace notes. For example, the beginning of Mozart’s Alla Turka movement from his famous Sonata k331. Those are not grace notes! Believe it or not. Look in your edition. They may be written as grace notes. But if you have an authoritative urtext edition, they’re written as appoggiaturas. Appoggiaturas look almost exactly like grace notes, but there’s one key difference. Grace notes always have little lines through them. They’re crossed out. Whereas, appoggiaturas are little tiny notes, but there are no lines through them. They are different in the way you play them. You don’t play them like grace notes. I mentioned two ways to play grace notes, either before the beat or on the beat playing very quickly. Both are wrong in this context, because these are appoggiaturas. Look in your edition. There should not be a line through them. If there are lines through them, this is not accurate.

What are appoggiaturas?

Appoggiaturas are long expressive non chord tones that resolve. They’re played on the beat with some time attached to them. In this case you play them as 16th notes followed by dotted 8th notes instead of grace notes, which are not appropriate for Mozart. It’s not what Mozart wrote! There are some editions out there that are just wrong in this regard. Listen to the beauty when you play them long, the way they’re supposed to be played. Look at all your music now for any places you think you have grace notes. Make sure they are grace notes. They might be appoggiaturas!

There are times when grace notes are not grace notes at all, but they are appoggiaturas to be played long and on the beat. That’s the lesson for today! I’m sure all of you are going to check your scores now. Let me know what you discover! Tell me in the comments here at LivingPianos.com, as well as YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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9 thoughts on “Grace Notes that Aren’t Grace Notes”


 
 

  1. Excellent explanation, but there is one small problem. If you have a particular edition of a certain composition, how do you know when it is wrong? I don’t go around collecting multiple editions of one piece, because I cannot afford it. While I could buy a version that says it’s an Urtext, that might not happen for one reason or another.

    1. It can be expensive to collect multiple urtext editions of music to assure accuracy in performance. Another option is to listen to multiple recordings of artists whom you respect. Getting a sense of the collective performance practices of many musicians can help you at least know what the accepted performance practices are (even if they aren’t necessarily right!)

  2. I learned something new re grace notes and appoggiaturas. Please keep up your videos AND the accompanying text. I look at almost all of them and although I have played piano all my life (from age 7 to 78) you teach me new things. Thank you! Elizabeth

  3. Thank you so much for this clarification. I have been playing the Mozart sonatas after not playing much for several years. I recalled my professor in college (47 yrs. ago) telling me the appoggiaturas are played on the beat but wasn’t sure if my memory was correct. I have the Kalmus edition which she recommended and it has the sonata as K310. Did they number it wrong?

    1. The K 310 Mozart Sonata is the one in A minor. Interestingly, although the Alla Turka movement is in A minor, it is the last movement from Mozart Sonata in A major K 331!

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve been exploring Mozart sonatas lately, playing everything as grace notes and suddenly remembered that’s probably incorrect. Next step was to find reliable recordings which I will do, but the new info I’ve received from your article is that grace notes have a line through them. I’ve played for years and didn’t realize that. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    1. You have to be careful because many editions of music don’t make a distinction between grace notes and appoggiaturas and have all of them as grace notes. You have the right idea listening to a variety of recordings to get an idea how noted pianists execute these notes.
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