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Introduction to Decoration

Most music that you listen to will sound a little more complicated than just a succession of chords. One way to add extra sparkle is to add decorative notes, between the chords. These notes are called “melodic decoration”.

Here is the opening of Bach’s chorale BWV 2.6 with all the decoration removed, leaving behind just the chords.

undecorated chorale

Bach added lots of melodic decoration to this harmonisation, making it a lot more interesting. Can you spot all the differences?

decorated chorale

Decoration notes can be either chord notes, or notes which do not belong to the current chord, (“non-chord notes”). Decoration notes will normally be specific types of, which have names depending on how they sound. The most common types of decoration are:

  • Passing notes (which can be accented or unaccented, as well as chromatic)
  • Auxiliary notes (upper or lower, chromatic)
  • Appoggiaturas
  • Suspensions
  • Anticipations
  • Retardations
  • Pedals (tonic & dominant)
  • Changing notes

We will learn more about the different types of decoration in the next few lessons.