Timmers, R., Ashley, R., Desain, P., Honing, H., & Windsor, L. (2002) Timing of ornaments in the theme of Beethoven's Paisiello Variations: Empirical Data and a Model. Music Perception, 20(1), 3-33.


Musicians have to make several interpretive decisions when performing a musical piece. These decisions concern both ambiguous as well as under-specified material. For example, the grace note, a one-note musical ornament, is given no duration in the score; it supposedly has to steal time from the previous or the main note. The question is what duration the grace note is given and how it gets its duration: by stealing or inserting time. In an experiment, sixteen professional pianists perform three musical fragments (from a Beethoven Theme) 'with' and 'without' grace notes in seven different tempi (45-75 BPM). The effect of global tempo on the duration of the grace note is tested. Stolen and inserted times are measured in addition. It is found that grace notes generally scale less than relationally invariant with bar duration, though there are subjects who perform the grace notes with constant or relational invariant duration. It is further found that grace notes steal most to all time from the previous note and only little to no time from the main note and insert little to no time. If the one-note ornament is interpreted as an appoggiatura, it steals most to all time from the main note and no time from the previous note. It is shown that different ornament categories have clearly separate timing characteristics. The choice between ornament category depends as much on the performer as on the musical material. A model of grace note performance tests the strength of the conclusions.

Full paper (pdf)