Musical Dictionary: Accent Signs/Marks

The Music Workshop Musical Dictionary

Accent Signs/Marks

Simply:  To play the note or notes louder

More: These symbols mark a louder dynamic on that/those note(s). They make a more pronounced marking when played. There are different symbols as noted here. For example:

  • Staccato, the first symbol shown above, indicates that the last part of a note should be silenced to create separation between it and the following note. The duration of a staccato note may be about half as long as the note value would indicate, although the tempo and performers’ taste varies this quite a bit.
  • The staccatissimo, shown second, is usually interpreted as shorter than the staccato, but composers up to the time of Mozart used these symbols interchangeably. A staccatissimo quarter note would be correctly played in traditional art music as a lightly articulated sixteenth note followed by rests which fill the remainder of the beat.
  • The marcato, shown third, the vertical open wedge, is even louder or more marked than a regular accent mark.
  • The fourth mark shown, the Accent mark, indicates that the marked note should have an emphasized beginning and then taper off rather quickly. This mark is correctly known by classically trained musicians as marcato, though it is usually simply referred to as an accent.
  • The tenuto mark, shown fifth above, has three meanings. It may indicate that a note or chord is to be played at full length or longer; it may indicate that a note or chord is to be played a bit louder; or it may indicate that a note is to be separated with a little space from surrounding notes. The last meaning is usually inferred with there are several notes with tenuto marks in a row, especially under a slur. Tenuto is Italian for “sustained”.

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( Illustration courtesy of: Nick Daly )