Ornamentation on Classical Guitar

In this video, CGC Community Manager Dave Belcher walks you through an introduction to ornamentation on classical guitar. We’ll look at three basic ornaments here: the appoggiatura, the mordent, and the trill. Be sure to download the ornamentation guide to follow along. 


There are many kinds of appoggiaturas in baroque music, but usually it has an emphasis on the first note with tension that then resolves on the second. We might call this the harmonic appoggiatura. There are shorter appoggiaturas (similar to what we today call an “acciaccatura”) but the notation will not always tell you which is which. Musical context will be the deciding factor in terms of how you should play these ornaments. 

The exercises for the appoggiatura require you to slur a pair of notes together and each one has a different set of accents. Making the notes accented or even requires control of your slur technique. So these are great slur exercises. 


The mordent has a “biting” effect as the name of this ornament indicates. “Mordere” means biting in Italian. In most cases the mordent will feature an ornament that begins on the upper note, moves down to the lower note, and back to the upper note. This all happens in one quick slurred motion. The notation in baroque music will not always tell you whether the mordent is “diatonic” or chromatic. The harmony of the piece will dictate what fits best here. All of the exercises here feature chromatic mordents. 

The exercises work up to the full mordent in stages. First, you start out with two slurs, one descending and the next ascending. I would encourage you to make these slurs all even in volume, unlike the harmonic appoggiatura. Keep these very rhythmic, which helps you focus on control of the slur technique. Then, you move up to a full mordent with one right-hand articulation and two slurs in the left hand. Finally, move to the full-speed mordent. 


The trill is very similar to the harmonic appoggiatura in that its most frequent use case is dissonance or tension that resolves. These always happen at cadences in baroque music, and of course elsewhere as well. For instance, another kind of trill appears in the two-part invention in G Major (No. 10, BWV 781) by J.S. Bach. Here there are trills in the upper voice that fill out long-held durations. These are meant to be decorative and not cadential or harmonic. In these cases we need very even slurs, unlike the more harmonic appoggiatura-like trills. 

Once again the exercises given ask you to use slur technique in the left hand but here with rhythmic speed bursts. You can work on these exercises with even notes or accenting the first note and making each successive alternation weaker. This again helps you develop control. 


Finally, we give you exercises that require you to use ornaments (here slurs) while holding on to a barre with the first finger. This is important as you will encounter this technical challenge frequently in baroque music. 

We hope these exercises help you develop your ornamentation on classical guitar! 

Download the Ornamentation Guide

At CGC Academy we have a full in-depth course on ornamentation in the music of J.S. Bach. Join CGC Academy to get full access today