An ornament is a note used to embellish the principal melodic note. Ornamentation, as the name suggests, is used to decorate musical ideas. In early music it was the accepted norm for soloists (instrumental or vocal) to add extra notes at certain points in the performance of a composition. This was particularly the case when a section of music was repeated, in order to make the second hearing more decorative and thus different from the first time. Such impromptu ornamentation depended on the imagination and ability of the performer and would vary from performance to performance. Early composers were, to some extent, satisfied to leave this decorating of their music to competent performers, but gradually signs were evolved to represent in writing as near as possible every king of acceptable embellishment.


Some modern composers write out in full exactly what they intend to be played. Others, however, use standardized signs, of which there are a variety as listed below.


Types of musical ornament

grace note


Length of ornaments

Some ornaments vary according to the tempo indication. Where there is no such indication, the manner of performance in a piece will depend on the style and conventions of the era of its composition.