Developing Your Ornamental Toolbox

By Leighann Daihl Ragusa

Fear, terror, and anxiety are common feelings flutists experience as they begin to tackle ornamentation. The idea of inventing things on the spot is daunting and the pressure that you might be wrong is scary. However, ornamentation doesn’t have to be that way. By equipping yourself with the proper skill set and incorporating ornamentation into your daily practice, ornamentation becomes second nature. What follows are tools to become more knowledgeable and comfortable with ornamentation, resulting in a much more enjoyable experience as a co-composer.

Why do we ornament music?

Uninformed and less knowledgeable flutists come to a slow movement in a Baroque sonata, such as the Adagio from Handel’s e minor sonata, HWV 359b, and see a very simple melody (Ex. 1). They often think movements like these are easy and will either skip over them or spend very little time learning them. However, these movements are the hidden gems within the entire sonata because they encourage the imagination of performers to explore, allowing one’s own moment in a performance.


Ornamenting is more than adding notes to the printed page, it is a vehicle of artistic expression. As musicians, it is our job to excite the passions of our listeners through musical excellence and spontaneity. In the Baroque Period (c. 1600-1750), musicians aimed to move their listeners through conveying various emotions, or “affects,” such as love, sadness, or joy. In order to better portray these emotions, performers manipulate melodies by adding, subtracting, or altering elements on the written page. Ornaments can be used as a means to connect or enliven specific notes or harmonies. Additionally, embellishments added to repeated material serve as a means to vary the repetition. Compared to Romantic and contemporary scores, Baroque musical scores have fewer instructions (dynamics, articulations, vibrato, etc.) on the printed page. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, paper and ink were very expensive. The most heavily marked up scores from this time were published in Paris, which was much more affluent than the rest of Europe. Composers expected performers to view their scores as a blueprints, inviting elaboration. Through ornamentation, simple musical ideas are transformed into eloquent phrases, creating more meaningful performances.

In the same way that too much salt can be added to a dish, ornamenting can be overused. Johann Joachim Quantz advocates for judicious ornamentation in his in-depth 1752 treatise, On Playing the Flute: “[Ornaments] must be used sparingly or they become too much of a good thing. The rarest and most tasteful delicacies produce nausea if over-indulged. The same is true of musical embellishments if we use them too profusely, and attempt to overwhelm the ear [...] Hence it is apparent that embellishments may both improve a piece where it is necessary, and mar it if used inappropriately [...] The little embellishments should be used like seasoning at a meal” (Quantz, p. 99-100).

Where to begin?

Musicians often try to ornament too soon when they are learning a new piece, resulting in feelings of discomfort and frustration. Before departing from the printed page, it is important to know what the piece sounds like. Begin by playing the notes on the page and make them sound convincing by themselves. Pay close attention to see what ornaments have been incorporated into the melody or notated above the notes with the use of a symbol, including + or tr.  Then, for a better understanding of the piece, analyze the underlying or implied harmonies to ascertain the groundwork on which the piece is built. C.P.E. Bach, in his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments,states that “it is a matter of experience that those who are not well grounded in the study of harmony fumble in darkness when they use embellishments and must thank their good fortune rather than insight when they are successful” (C.P.E Bach, p. 82).   It is possible to try ornamenting without understanding the underlying harmonies but you will no doubt run into problems with notes not matching the harmony. Adding ornaments should not take the music out of the harmonic realm in which it already exists. Finally, after knowing how the piece sounds, harmony and all, determine what emotion(s) the music is trying to convey. Later, specific ornaments can be used as a means to enhance the delivery of specific emotions.Once a musician has a complete understanding of the piece as a whole, he/she can begin to experiment with ornamentation. There are three classes of ornaments: those that are essential and indispensable, those that can alter what is already on the page, and those that can be added.

Ornaments that are Essential and Indispensable

Alternations of consonance and dissonance are inherent in music in order to eloquently express various passions. Consonant intervals are pleasing and agreeable to the ear while dissonant intervals cause tension, creating a strong desire to resolve to a consonance. The more dissonant the harmonies are, the more pleasure one feels when they are resolved. In the eighteenth-century, there was a lack of consistent terminology and uniform definition for different types of dissonant notes. There were almost as many terms used to describe different kinds of dissonances as there were writers, often using terms interchangeably. “Embellishing tones”, or non-chord tones, lie outside the harmony; they exist to embellish or bring interest to the harmonic progression and are vital to melodies as they create tension and release between notes. The patterns that these notes form can be categorized into passing tones, appoggiaturas, and suspensions.

Passing tones are non-chord tones that occur between two chord tones, creating stepwise motion (Ex. 2). They often fill in the interval of a third in the classic figure: chord tone - passing tone - chord tone. However, two adjacent passing tones can be used to fill in the space between two chord tones a fourth apart. There are two types of passing tones: accented and unaccented. Accented passing tones occur on a strong beat, or the strong part of a beat (Ex. 3), while unaccented passing tones occur on a weak beat, or weak part of the beat (Ex. 4). Quantz uses the term “passing appoggiatura” to describe these types of notes and says that they “must be touched very briefly and softly, as though, so to speak, only in passing (Quantz, p. 227).”

Appoggiaturas (Vorschlagin German),derived from the Italian verb appoggiare(to lean upon), are the most basic ornaments. Consisting of an auxiliary note and a main note, appoggiaturas are accented dissonances of long or short duration that are approached by leap and followed by step (Ex. 5). They differ from suspensions because they are dissonances that are not carried over from a previous harmony. The appoggiatura note is strong and accented, growing in intensity to the consonance. The consonance is softer and weaker. Quantz provides flutists with several rules regarding appoggiaturas. If the appoggiatura proceeds a binary note (note divisible by two) it takes one-half the value of the principal note (Ex. 6). Appoggiaturas that proceed a ternary note (note divisible by three) take two-thirds of the principal note (Ex. 7). In 6/8 or 6/4 meters the appoggiatura takes the full value of a dotted note prolonged by a tie (Ex. 8). Additionally, an appoggiatura can take the full value of a note followed by a rest. In this case, the rest accommodates the displacement of the principal note (Ex. 9). C.P.E. Bach gives a nice testament to the necessity of these ornaments in his essay:

“Appoggiaturas are among the most essential embellishments. They enhance harmony as well as melody. They heighten the attractiveness of the latter by joining notes smoothly together and, in the case of notes which might prove disagreeable because of their length, by shortening them while filling the ear with sound. At the same time they prolong others by occasionally repeating a preceding tone, and musical experience attests to the agreeableness of well contrived repetitions. Appoggiaturas modify chords which would be too simple without them. All syncopations and dissonances can be traced back to them. What would harmony be without these elements.” (C.P.E Bach, p.87)

A suspension (Vorhaltor Aufhaltungin German)is a delayed step that must be prepared with the same note in the preceding chord (Ex. 10). Suspensions always have three steps: preparation (P), suspension (S), and resolution (R). The preparation is consonant and metrically weak, consisting of one or more notes from the previous chord. These notes are held over or played again, creating tension, while the underlying harmony changes, resulting in the suspension which is dissonant and metrically strong. The dissonance formed continues until the suspended note resolves by stepwise motion to a new consonant harmony. There are four common suspension types: 9-8, 7-6, 4-3, and 2-3 (Ex. 11). Additionally, retardations are nonharmonic tones that resemble the suspension but resolve upwards.

Trills or shakes provide rhythmic and melodic enhancement to melodies. They consist of alternations of the main note with an upper auxiliary note either a tone (two half-steps) or semitone (one half-step) above it. The auxiliary note produces a harmonic suspension which resolves to the main note. If the note preceding the ornamented note is already one scale degree higher, the trill customarily begins on the main note. In this case, the dissonant note has already been stated beforehand. There are two categories of trills: those with terminations (ending) and those without terminations.

Trills with terminations are essential to Baroque music because they provide the finishing touches to a phrase or cadence (Ex. 12). The termination joins the trill with its desired arrival note. Baroque musicians were expected to add the implied cadential trills when they were not notated. These trills begin with the upper note (appoggiatura) and are primarily harmonic in function. Receiving all the stress, the upper note is accented, lengthened, and slurred into the remainder of the trill. This creates a slight diminuendo away from the appoggiatura. By lengthening the appoggiatura note, a strong suspension is created and resolved by the remainder of the trill. These trills end with a closing turn or Nachschlag (Ex. 13). Alternatively, cadential trills can end with a note of anticipation where notated (Ex. 14).


Trills without terminations, also called half-trills, begin with the upper note and end on the main note. These trills function melodically and rhythmically (Ex. 15).









Mordents, derived from Latin verb modere(to bite), most commonly consist of three notes comprised of a single alternation with the note below the primary note (Ex. 16). However, like many elements of Baroque music, the execution of ornaments varied from country to country and composer to composer. For example, in France it was also commonplace to use the inversion, alternating with the upper note, called pincé. The speed and length of mordents depends on the tempo and character of the music.




Ornaments of Alteration

Ornamentation through alterationis another class of adornment, especially alteration of articulation and rhythm. Without intricate articulations, the phrase lacks eloquence. The frequency of articulation marks typically found in later music was rare in Baroque compositions. Rather, performers followed conventional rules and composers notated exceptions. Articulation was a tool to create inequality between notes, especially weak second notes in pairs, as well as differing degrees of accentuation. Performers today often add slurs to differentiate between strong and weak notes. Baroquemusiciansutilizeda variety of tonguing syllables, such as ti, di and ri, to achieve strong and weak notes rather than adding slurs. Slurs can be added by flutists, especially in rapid passagework. If slursare added by a performer today, they should not extend over a barline line and they should not connect a weak beat to a strong beat. Additionally, they should lie within only one harmony.

Ex.17 Telemann, Fantasia No. 7, mm. 1-6 Rachel Brown, “Telemann Fantasias: a feat of ingenuity and inspiration,”

Additionally, eighteenth-century musicians did not observetoday’s performance practice of precisely playing the rhythms on the page.Performers reshaped rhythms as a regular means of expression, by either elongating notes, double dotting or over dotting using lombardic rhythms. Lombardic rhythms are syncopated: a short note followed by a long note (Ex. 18). In addition, the smallest note values were treated ornamentally and were played freer than notated.

Additional Ornaments

The last category of embellishments are those that can be added to further decorate the music printed on the page. The overall aim is not to lavishly add ornaments, as that will only overwhelm the ears of the listener. It is like adding salt to taste; the goal is not to make the dish salty; instead it is used to bring out subtle flavors of other ingredients. Ornaments in this group include extemporaneous embellishments like slides, turns, arpeggiation, and vibrato.

Slides (Schleifer in German, Coulé in French) fill in melodic intervals with stepwise diatonic motion between the initial and final notes, usually consisting of three or more notes (Ex. 19). They can occur before the beat or on the beat and are slurred.

Turns, also called gruppettos, ornament a main note by circling around it (Ex. 20).

Ornaments of substitution include those that either eliminate the main note and replace it with an ornamental note or expand the melodic line by substituting more notes for fewer. Arpeggiation, or broken chords, can be used to ornament intervals larger than a whole tone. In addition,performers can use different vibrato techniques in a decorative way. For contemporary flute players, vibrato belongs to almost every note and it is essential to emotional expression. In the Baroque period it was commonplace to use vibrato on a sparingly. The most common technique for producing vibrato was that of the flattement, or finger vibrato. Shaking the flute, using lip and jaw vibrato, or chest vibrato were also used.

Developing Your Ornamental Toolbox

In order to develop ornamental language, musicians need to incorporate ornamentation into their daily practicing. In the same way that modern flute players regularly play scales to help develop dynamic range, fluid technique, phrasing, articulation, and breathing, scales can also be used to cultivate ornamentation. Begin by learning different patterns and ornament combinations that can be applied to scales. It is important to play these patterns in common Baroque keys (C, G, D, A, F, Bb and Eb). Additionally, vary patterns in terms of affect, rhythm, speed, and volume.

An excellent tool to help develop ornamental language is Quantz’s chapter “Of Extempore Variations on Simple Intervals.” In this chapter Quantz provides tables, each accompanied by a figured bassline, with numerous variations for the most common intervals. Musicians should play through these tables, regularly transposing them to different keys as well as varying elements like rhythm, speed and affect.

More lavish embellishments were traditionally applied to slow movements. For pedagogical purposes many written-out examples from the eighteenth-century survive, providing another useful tool for a musician’s ornamental toolbox. The slow movements of Telemann’s 12 Methodical Sonatas and Pietro Nardini’s flute sonatas are excellent resources with written out embellishments. Arcangelo Corelli’s Op. 5 Violin Sonatas have several surviving ornamental versions for the same movement. One example, the first movement of op. 5, no. 9, has at least seven extant variations by different individuals. Another similar example is an Adagio by Giuseppe Tartini, however, this time Tartini provided the various ornamented versions. These examples show a wide range of ornamental approaches from simple to extravagant.

In addition to practicing different patterns and studying existing written-out eighteenth-century embellished movements, it is vital that flutists practice ornamenting melodies. Begin with short, simple melodies that you already know like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday.” Identify the affect of the melody, analyze the underlying harmonies, and try to come up with at least three different ornamented versions. After ornamenting simple melodies that you already know, begin to ornament melodies that are unfamiliar, such as a slow movement from a Handel sonata. Practicing embellishing short melodies will help facilitate more adventure-some, spontaneous and expressive ornamental language.

Ornamenting, an Expressive Necessity

Through awareness and eloquent rendering of the musical notes on the page, performersawakenthe passions of the listener and heighten the expressive power of music. Embellishing Baroque music can be one of the most delightful and rewarding aspects of making music because it is one of the most creative, yet structured exercises in musicianship. By incorporating ornamentation into your daily practice regimen, you can cultivate ornamental language. The true beauty and meaning of a Baroque melody comes to life through eloquent embellishment. Whether it is interpreting or altering the notes on the page or adding to them, attending to the little notes is the job of the performer as a means of enlivening and adding expression to the notes written on the page. Open up your toolbox and start collecting your tools to better equip yourself to tackle ornamentation.


Bach, C.P.E. Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (pp.79-146). Translated by William J. Mitchell. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1949.

Brown, Rachel. “Telemann Fantasias: a feat of ingenuity and inspiration.” Accessed 1 May 2018.

Donington, Robert. The Interpretation of Early Music.New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1979.

Gauldin, Robert. A Practical Approach to 18th Century Counterpoint.Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc., 2013.

Lester, Joel. Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century.Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Neumann, Frederick. Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music: with Special Emphasis on J.S. Bach.  New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Pepper, William Bloomfield. The Alternate Embellishment in the Slow Movements of Telemann’s Methodical Sonatas .Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1978.

Quantz, Johann Joachim. On Playing the Flute. Translatedby Edward R. Reilly. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2001.

Quantz, Johann Joachim. Solfeggi Pour La Flute Traversiere avec l’enseignement. First edition based on the autograph by Winfried Michel and Hermien Teske. Winterthur: Amadeus, 1978.

Rameau, Jean Philippe. Treatise on HarmonyTranslated by Philip Gossett. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971.

Schmitz, Hans-Peter. Die Kunst Der Verzierung im 18. Jahrhundert.Kassel: Bӓrenreiter-Verlag, 1955.

Thomas, Ania. Back to the Basics A Practice Book for the Baroque Flute.Translated by  Katherine Spencer. Germany: Edition Walhall, 2017.

Zaslaw, Neal. “Ornaments for Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, op.5.” Early Music, Vol. 24, No. 1, Music in Purcell’s London (February 1996): 95-116. JSTOR (3128452).

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