Accent (music)

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In music, an accent (Italian: accento) is an emphasis placed on a particular note, either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark. A tonic accent is an emphasis on a note by virtue of being higher in pitch than surrounding notes. An agogic accent is an emphasis by virtue of being longer in duration than surrounding notes. Dynamic accents are created when one note is louder than another.

Accents which do not correspond to the stressed beats of the prevailing metre are called syncopation.

Accent marks

Music accents.jpg

In music notation, an accent mark indicates a louder dynamic to apply to a single note, or an articulation mark. The most common is the horizontal accent, the fourth symbol in the diagram above; this is the symbol that most musicians mean when they say accent mark. Performed, it is a moderately sharp attack that can be used at any dynamic level from pianissimo to fortissimo. The vertical accent, third in the diagram, may be stronger or weaker than the horizontal accent; generally meant for attacks at loud dynamic levels of forte or louder.

The remaining marks typically shorten a note. Staccato, the first symbol shown above, usually indicates a duration 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 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used these symbols interchangeably. The tenuto mark, shown fifth above, indicates that a note is to be separated with a little space from surrounding notes. This separation may be enough to emphasize the note, or it may have to be played a little louder, at the discretion of the player. The tenuto mark also indicates that the note should be played for its full value - not cut off earlier. Sometimes these symbols are used in combination.

Even when these symbols are absent, experienced musicians will introduce them according to the style of the music.

Anti-accent marks

Percussion music in particular makes use as well of anti-accent marks, as follows:

  • u (breve): slightly softer than surrounding notes.
  • ( ) (note head in parentheses): significantly softer than surrounding notes.
  • [ ] (note head in brackets): much softer than surrounding notes.