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The Piano Mordent

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The sign of a Lower Mordent. The sign of an Upper Mordent.

The name comes from the Latin verb mordere which means 'to bite'. (Try to figure the analogy...).

There are two kinds:

The sign of a Lower Mordent.

- Mordant, or lower mordant. This is a shake sign crossed by a vertical line.
The sign of an Upper Mordent.

- Upper mordant or inverted mordant. The same shake sign without the vertical line.


The Mordant (Lower mordant)

The sign of a Lower Mordent.

The first type of mordant (sometimes called lower mordant) is a sequence of three notes: The written note, the note below and again the written note.

Written

Played

How a Lower Mordent is Written and Played.

The written note above is C, so you play rapidly C-B-C.

Q: What would you play if you saw an E note with The sign of a Lower Mordent. above?
A: E-D-E

The first note always is played on the beat and the other two notes are played immediately after.

How fast you should play the mordant?

As in other kinds of piano ornaments it depends on the tempo of the piece, the style, the skill of the performer and his taste.

The Upper Mordant (Inverted Mordant)

The sign of an Upper Mordent.

As described above, it is the same shake sign as the upper mordent but without the vertical line in it.

This sign confuses many people because it may be performed in two different ways:
The first way is the Trill as performed in Baroque style, and the other is from the classic period until today.

The sign of an Upper Mordent.

In the Baroque style is actually a trill.

In the Baroque genre (the music of Bach and other composers from his time), the upper mordant has a different name- Trill, or Trillo.
In other words, there is no such a thing as an upper mordant in the Baroque music. This sign simply refers to a Trill .

Here are few suggestions of how to play the trill:

A Few Suggestion on how to play a Mordent as a trill.

Q: What would you play if you saw an E note with the The sign of an Upper Mordent. above (in the Baroque music)?
A: F-E-F-E (or F-E-F-E-F-E...)

Notice that the first note is played on the beat.

Click here to learn more about the trill.

Upper mordant since the classic era

Since the classical era (From the days of Mozart) it is mostly performed in the following manner:

i.e. the written note, the note above and again the written note.

In this example you play rapidly C-D-C.

This is the reason why it has other names such as - Upper mordent or Inverted mordant.

Q: What would you play if you saw an E note with above?
A: E-F-E

The first note of the upper mordant is played on the beat.

Here are some important comments which I advise you to read:

As a piano teacher, I recommend to play the whole piece without referring to the mordants. It means that when you see a note with a mordent above it, just play the note as you see it. Only when you feel that you are playing the whole piece fluently, then try to perform the mordent.

One more comment: Some editors write above the mordents the exact notes that should be played. You may find this helpful.

Mordent (German), Mordant, Pince (French), Mordente (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese)

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