Grace Notes Before a Beat

• May 9, 2016 - 06:44

Yes, I know, Musescore is focused on notation, not playback, etc. With that out of the way, simple request- an option, either in general or on specific grace notes, to have the grace note either play on the current beat (current behavior) or before.


In reply to by mazdak

Actually, the two different types of appogiaturas do play back differently.

The long appogiatura, notated by a small eighth note, plays on the beat and takes half the value of the main note which follows it (two thirds when that note is dotted).

The short appogiatura, notated by a small eighth note with a bar through the stem, is played back slightly before the beat, and is played (as it should be) very short.

It should be noted that in MuseScore 2.0.1, the tool-tip text for the short appogiatura uses the word 'acciaccatura' incorrectly to identify the slashed eighth-note symbol. (I am not certain if this has been corrected in later versions of the program. If not, it should certainly be corrected for future versions.) An acciaccatura is a keyboard ornament of the late Baroque period. It is not notated with any special symbol, but is recognised by performers seeing a strongly dissonant note (or notes) joined to a chord.


The actual Interpretation is left to the performer, but it is generally played by striking the dissonant note simultaneously with the chord and then releasing it almost immediately, 'as if the key were hot' (according to Geminiani).

I tried the appoggiatura with the line through it, and slowed the tempo to 40 to test it, and unfortunately the grace note plays on the beat. It sounds kinda bad.

In reply to by arrangedforbrass

The one with a line through it is no appoggiatura, it is acciaccatura. And on the beat is the correct interpretation for acciaccatura in most genres of music in most eras of musical history. It is true that some prefer before the beat. Some day MuseScore may add the ability to customize this, but for now it goes with the standard interpretation.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

As an addendum to this, if you really want the playback to be before the beat, play with the pianoroll editor. You can make it so.

Something I've learned after using this software for so long is that there is always a workaround. Only case where there isn't is volume changes over sustained single notes, but everything else has a workaround.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

"...on the beat is the correct interpretation for acciaccatura in most genres of music in most eras of musical history." Huh???? The statement is true only if you don't consider Classical and Romantic literature valid genres or part of music history. From Wikipedia (and 40+ years of experience):

"The acciaccatura in the Classical period is usually performed before the beat and the emphasis is on the main note not the grace note. The appoggiatura long or short has the emphasis on the grace note."

I would add that I studied with Karl Schnabel, whose father, Arthur, was a student of Theodor Leschetizky, in turn a student of Carl Czerny and subsequent teacher of Ignaz Paderewski. Schnabel insisted on the distinction between the acciaccatura and the appoggiatura as noted above in the Wiki quote. With an impeccable, direct lineage going back nearly to Mozart, his authority, with respect to performance practices of the 18th and 19th centuries, cannot be challenged.

More troubling than this misconception about the acciaccatura is that earlier versions of MuseScore performed acciaccature before the beat, and now they do not. This is the second example I've found of functionality being removed/changed in MuseScore 2.x, ruining playback of earlier scores. This should never happen. It is pure Microsoft thinking. I program for a Unix typesetting system still in current use (groff) that is backwardly compatible with documents created 30+ years ago. (The other example is the removal of MIDI gate off-times in version 2.x, something I've written about but get the feeling is being treated as the unreasonable request of a no-nothing.) Surely MuseScore should be aiming to join such illustrious company.

In reply to by Peter Schaffter

I recognize that in those cases where you happen to subjectively prefer before-the-beat playback, the change to on-the-beat seems a step backwards. But it's a step forward for the remainder of the cases. It is not going to be objectively provable as to which case is more common 2018, but I stand by the general statement that playing grace notes on the beat is an absolutely standard interpretation, not in any sense worse than the alternative and certainly not a case of MuseScore "removing" functionality. Obviously, the ideal would be to support both, and hopefully that is coming some day.

Support for tweaking of note times would also be nice to add back. It's just a matter of priorities.

In reply to by LuuBluum

Indeed, but no denying it isn't as convenient. The implementation was changed internally, in part to support the possibility of ornament playback, and this makes it not entirely straightforward to set "note" times (a single "note" might have multiple playback events). To me that always sounded like a problem that could be solved in a few hours and I'm disappointed that it just hasn't happened.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

It depends on the context, in battery percussion a strikethrough grace note is considered an acciaccatura (although nobody says this in the percussion world, it's referred to as a "flam" or sometimes a chop) because it's played directly before the host note as quickly as possible. There are different variations depending on the instrument/era/genre

In reply to by Lord Leo

When you open up the pianoroll editor and click the note you want to adjust, there should be two values in the upper right portion of the editor- ontime and length. Length is a percentage of the intended duration of the note, with 1000 being 100% of the duration. Ontime uses the same scale- setting the ontime to 500 and the length to 500 will result in a note that is delayed by half of its value before playing, and would play for only half of its specified value. The key is that the ontime value can also be negative- if I have, say, a quarter note with an ontime of -500 and a length of 1500, that is the same as having that quarter note tied with an eighth note on the previous measure, playing the last possible beat.

Appoggiaturas, in their implementation, have the same "total" length as the note that they're modifying. However, their internally set length is so that the total number of appoggiaturas on a single note amount to half of the overall note length- the principal note therefore always has an ontime and length of 500, with the appoggiatura(s) having ontime and length such that they do not overlap and lengths sum to 500. To have them instead be before the beat, set the principal note length to 1000 and ontime to 0. From there, offset the appoggiatura ontimes by 500 (if it has an ontime of 0, set it to -500; if it has an ontime of 250, set it to -250, etc.). Leave the lengths the same. That will give you the desired "before the beat" playback.

It is worth noting that this can only be done in situation where a single note represents a single playback event. You cannot do this sort of modification to trills; or at the very least cannot do it well. For that you need to resort to invisible notes.

In reply to by LuuBluum

Is this still true for mu͒3? Looks to me like not only have both base note and grace note the ontime 0 and offtime 1000 but also the grace note overlaps the base note (i.e. they are played at the same time). How can this be‽ A vocalist certainly cannot do that.


The overlap is the same for unslashed grace notes. The grace note length calculation seems also off to me (more than 50% of the base note duration)… it is correct for un-dotted quarter notes… but seems to be 100% for an un-dotted eigth note. So the grace note duration is always an eigth? How… odd. I’d say at least two bugs (granted, this is 3.2.3, I need to check on 3.6.2)…

I’m specifically in the need of pre-beat grace notes. These must detract from the time of the previous note, ideally automatically (because we get a MIDI collision otherwise)… this is why I came looking here, from a search engine. The PRE weirdness just adds to the puzzle. (The slash was in the original notation.)

In reply to by mirabilos

I'm not aware of any bugs in any version of MuseScore that would have led to the notes overlapping - are you sure that particular score wasn't manually tweaked to create that overlap?

Since that appears from the picture to be an appoggiatura instead of an acciaccatura, the duration is calculated using the historical formula of 50% of the note value for undotted notes, 66% for dotted. It's been suggested the latter figure should be 33% when not in compound meter.

Anyhow., "grace note after" aside, both 3.6.2 and current 4.0 builds play all grace notes on the beat, stealing time from the next note. The specific duration of the grace note depends on whether it is acciaccatura or appoggiatura and how many of them there are. And it's still an open feature request to provide more control over this, including before-the-beat playback.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I just retested this in 3.6.2 on Windows.

  • on/off times are only correct after having played back the score a bit once
  • the on/off times of the grace note are parts of the on/off time scope of the base note, but the PRE calculates them from the grace note instead, making the bar MUCH too short

These also apply to 3.2.3, and I couldn’t quickly find anything to fix it in PR9000 either, from grepping the log for /PRE/, /pian.*rol/i, /grace/i.

3.6.2 seems to put slashed grace notes (and, from a commit I found, multiple grace notes) into the “as quickly as possible” mode, which is good, but an unslashed 8th grace note on a dotted half(!) takes up ⅔ of the dotted half’s length by default, which I find… a tad too much. Much too much, in fact.

But after having played back, so mu͒ sorts out the default on/off times, you can adjust them in the PRE (remembering that the lengths of the bars are not correct, but doing the math yourself), and things look to be working, in both 3.2.3 and 3.6.2.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Marc: I wish you weren't so sure of your position. As a percussionist, playing grace notes before the beat is the standard in all cases. Only in exceptional cases--less than 1% of the time--would I play grace notes on the beat for stylistic purposes.

I agree with the commenters who wish the playback could be adjusted easily. The use of grace notes on the beat destroys any sense of flow in the rhythmic writing, and creates a 'wonky' sort of feeling.

In reply to by bronsonw

I wasn't expressing opinion about percussion specifically but about music in general. I agree that due to the special nature and function of percussion, it does tend to be a case where the before-the-beat playback is more common. It's also worth mention that percussion literature tends to be very heavily biased toward modern eras where the before-the-beat interpretation is more common. I mentioned there are other stylistic situations where before the beat is more common as well. But for all music in general - looking at all instruments, all genres, all periods of history - that's not necessarily the case.

Anyhow, absolutely I think everyone agrees it would be nice to have an easy way to control this.

In reply to by Peter Schaffter

The naming, writing and performance seems to depend greatly on the epoch. Summarised from Gould, Encyclopædia Britannica, Dolmetsch and others:

  • Renaissance and early Baroque: appoggiatura (Vorschlag; appoggiare = to lean on)
    • takes ca. ⅓ of the measured note (on the beat), melodic ornament
    • appoggiatura emphasise the grace note, not the measured note, in general
  • high/late Baroque (definitely by J. S. Bach’s time):
    • short appoggiatura (kurzer Vorschlag) takes “an inconsiderable amount” (on the beat)
      • notated with slash
      • Gould calls this “grace note”, which elsewhere is a term encompassing multiple similar ornaments
      • emphasis possibly still on the grace note, but it’s short enough to not fuck up harmony
    • long appoggiatura takes half or more (on the beat), harmonic ornament
      • notated without slash
      • Gould calls this “appoggiatura”
      • emphasis definitely on the grace note
  • Mozart apparently had… issues… and “often wrote” a slashed grace note when he wanted a “normal” (not short) appoggiatura
    • so basically the above reversed
  • unaccented appoggiatura (complained about in the 18th century)
    • take their time from the preceding note, i.e. played before the beat
    • usually notated full-size in modern editions
  • Nachschlag: (at least present in late Baroque) a passage descending by thirds with intermixed short appoggiaturas would see them placed before the beat, by a quarter or even half the preceding note’s value, to produce a quick or equal-timed, respectively, run
    • also complained about by C. P. E. Bach
  • 19th century onwards:
    • acciaccatura (Zusammenschlag; acciaccare = to crush) is a dissonant ornamental
      • notated as grace note with slash
      • always emphasises the measured note, not the grace note
      • played at the same time as the measured note but quickly released
      • (in contrast to appoggiatura which, whether long or short, are not played at the same time as the measured note)
    • short appoggiatura were increasingly played before the beat (durchgehender Vorschlag), though this started in the 18th century in France, but not all of it (e.g. not for Chopin); by mid-19th century this seems to have been the rule rather than the exception though
      • notation with slash is a possible confusion with acciaccatura, so they were often written without slash, so therefore…
    • long appoggiatura tends to be notated in regular size
  • multiple grace notes are beamed together
    • the slash (if any) is usually omitted for these(!), so it’s probably hard to figure out which it is
      • 19th century onwards: if long appoggiatura is notated in regular size, it’s probably a short appoggiatura before the beat
      • before that, it’s played on the beat, a shorter long appogiatura that does take more than an inconsiderable amount of time; more so when the measured note is long; even more when the first note in a double appoggiatura (Doppelvorschlag) lies at distance from the measured note’s pitch
    • number of beams has no influence on the playback, it’s a cosmetic/typographic issue
      • same for single grace notes; their notated duration is symbolic/graphic
  • slur is generally used (from the first grace note to the measured note) but symbolic (whether the performance is slurred or not cannot be read from its presence or absence)
  • appoggiatura preparing (præfixing) a trill (whether the trill is (long appoggiatura) “prepared” or (short appoggiatura) “unprepared”) is always played on the beat

So, at least, anything that’s not short (Renaissance appoggiatura, Baroque long appoggiatura, double appoggiatura) is always played on the beat (and anything notated in regular-sized notes is measured… or at least played where it is notated… anyway); it’s just tricky to figure out which is which from the notation, especially considering Mozart (did he ever teach that to others?).

In MuseScore, a grace note “on the beat” before a chord delays the entire chord though; Gould seems to indicate it should only delay the note it slurs to.

I'd also like this feature for rolls as well, choosing which note is played right on the down beat, instead of just the first note. Sometimes it sounds terrible that way. Additionally, I'd like to be able to have rolls go across 2 staffs, for piano songs and the like, both for notation and for playback.

Didn't see this post, and I just made another forum about the same exact issue. This is the only feature on the updated version of the program that needs to be fixed

In reply to by Lord Leo

In the end I had an appoggiatura+trill+turn combo that wouldn’t play back right anyway, so I just set the notes in voice 1 to not play back and added an invisible voice 3 with the execution I desired. It’s just a bit harder to get the layout right then as even invisible notes reserve horizontal space :/

In reply to by Peter Schaffter

Yes, exactly. It adds an extra channel to the mixer and an extra track to the MIDI and moves just these notes to that track, as if they were played by a separate instrument (which they are).

This breaks the expected semantics that the line in question is fully played by one instrument (e.g. for teach tapes).

In reply to by Peter Schaffter

MuseScore 4 might simplify this some by allowing you to put the playback-only notes on a separate staff of the same instrument, rather than requiring a new instrument. Not sure if that generates a new channel or not though. Maybe a separate track but same channel? Eithet way, presumably a DAW or other program could merge them if having everything on the same track/channel is important for a given use case, like play-along rehearsal recordings.

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