accents in a 4-bar phrase

Figure 1. Accents in a 4-bar phrase.

An accent is the emphasizing of one tone above others by slight alteration of volume or length, or by slightly delaying the point of attack. The term is also applied to plainsong tones, i.e., very slightly inflected monotones. Accents are a form of articulation.


Accents are important in defining bars and the larger groupings of bars into phrases. For example, a 4-bar phrase is normally accented something like this (Figure 1):


If the beats in any part of the music are subdivided into short beat-units, then there may be accents and "sub-accents", for example:


accents and subaccents


When the bars have 3 beats an accented note is followed by an unaccented one:


accents in 3-beat bars


Similarly, in a 3-beat phrase the first bar will be more heavily accented than the following bars:


accents in 3-bar phrase


It's clear, then, that the "official" beat-unit of a composition is a convention, and that there are often smaller units and always larger units, both of which may be considered to be beats.