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Decorating a melody is like the paintings, gold relief, statues and other details that we noticed in Baroque architecture. The decorations, in the form of ornaments and added notes, create more detail in the melody.

Try to play each variation below on your flute so that you can hear how it sounds.

Decorating Simple Melodies

We are going to look at many ideas to decorate a simple melodic idea. Our melodic idea will be very simple – three notes of a scale.

We will explore the following methods of decorating this simple idea:

  • Add ornaments
  • Add extra notes
  • Change slur patterns
  • Combine extra notes and ornaments

Add Ornaments

One way to decorate a melody is to add ornaments to one or more of the notes. During the Baroque period some combinations of ornaments became quite common.


An appoggiatura occurs when the pitch above the written note is added to create a harmonic dissonance. This term is based on an Italian word that means “to lean.”

The appoggiatura is written as a smaller note (grace note) and takes its time from the written note (it does not occur prior to the note). An appoggiatura takes enough time to allow the dissonance to be felt before moving to the written note. Many editors notate an appoggiatura using the rhythmic value that is expected for the appoggiatura and the written note receives the remaining time.


A trill is a rapid alternation between the written note and the step above (diatonic, unless specified otherwise).

In the Baroque Era, a trill often starts on the upper note instead of the written note, making this a combined ornament consisting of an appoggiatura followed by a trill. A Baroque trill often looks like the top notation, but is performed as in the bottom notation. Baroque trills may also be indicated using a plus sign (+) instead of the tr notation.


A nachschlag consists of additional quick notes at the end of the written note that form a transition to the next written note. A typical example is a double nachschlag (two notes) that lead to the next written note. This works nicely in our three-note ascending pattern.

This common combination of Baroque ornaments consists of an appoggiatura, trill and nachschlag. Notice that the simple, main idea is still prominent, but we have made it fancier.

Add Extra Notes

Performers of Baroque music would have been expected to not only add ornaments, but also extra notes to add detail to the music. This is quite different from modern music where we are expected to accurately perform what is written in the music without adding other notes to it.

Though they may seem very different, there are many comparisons that can be made between Baroque music performance and jazz music performance:

  • Both provide the performer with a basic melody to play and expect the performer to add notes.
  • Both provide indications of the harmony to help the performer add notes to the melody that will sound good.
  • Both types of music expect that each performance of the same piece will be different, even if performed by the same instrumentalist.

Let’s explore some ways to add notes to our simple scale pattern.

Adding notes can be very simple. In these examples, we simply changed the first to quarter notes to eighth notes and added slurs. As with adding ornaments, the main idea is still easy to hear.

We can add complexity by adding two sixteenth notes instead of an eighth note, as in this example. Note that this is a decoration of the first eighth note pattern in the section above.

The reverse works as well – the sixteenth notes could come first.

We continue to add complexity by making beats one and two all sixteenth notes. Though this is becoming more technical, notice that the notes on the downbeat are the same as the original simple idea, which is how we can perceive this as a decoration of that idea.

Now that we have explored a lot of ways to add notes, we can start to combine them, as in this pattern with an eighth-sixteenth followed by all sixteenth notes.

If we want to really go crazy, we can expand to 32nd notes. Notice that this pattern has a lot of notes in it, but the first note of each beat is still our simple melody, and the 32nd notes in both beats form a scale.

Change Slur Patterns

Once we establish a pattern of added notes, we can create variations simply by changing the slur combinations. In this example, the same sixteenth note pattern is articulated four different ways.

Combine Extra Notes and Ornaments

Now that we have seen how to add notes and add ornaments, of course we can combine the two. In this example, the first note is decorated with added sixteenth notes and the second beat is decorated with a trill and grace notes. Again, the main simple idea is found on the downbeats, which makes this ornate decoration continue to resemble the original idea.

French vs Italian Ornamentation

Different countries developed different ways of ornamentation with different musical impacts. Two basic schools of Baroque ornamentation were the French and Italian schools.

The most basic difference is that the French school of thought used some level of ornamentation while the Italian school of thought was incredibly decorative. Think of the French school as being like a woman who wears a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet. The Italian school is like a woman who wears two sets of earrings, 4 necklaces, 7 rings on her fingers and 5 bangle bracelets on each wrist. Both women can look fantastic, but each has a distinct fashion flair.

Now that we have learned how to decorate simple melodies, we will learn how this complexity is balanced through the simplicity of form.

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