Music, in its nature, is a language performed by an artist or a group. Like any spoken language, there exists an element that changes its composition – and that’s we call “accent.”
Accent also is used as a term to indicate any notes and signs that require sound emphasis. On musical instruments with a range of dynamic distinction, the prominence or emphasis is in the form of an increase in volume, commonly happening at the start or even a moment after the start.
On musical instruments incapable of any dynamic distinction like the organ or harpsichord, the prominence or emphasis is in the form of manipulation of sound effect duration by an agogic accent.
How Accents Work In Music?
In layman’s terms, speech accent can be observed in terms of sound volume, duration of each syllable, or the manner of pronunciation. Musical accent also has its own version, but not all instruments are capable of creating an accent in the three ways observed.
Another term of accent is “stress,” which is a momentary emphasis or prominence of a specific melodic or rhythmic detail. It can be indicated through graphical means such as symbols “>” and “–” or verbally. In a metrically organized music, accents are used for the artistic articulation of sound in compatibility with specific patterns of another activity like dancing.
Generally, the first beat of measure contains the heaviest accent, and the subsequent measures have lesser accents. An entire measure can be subjected to variations of accentuation, which influences the meaningful phrasing, especially on periodically structured Music.
Use of Accents on Music Notes
There can be numerous ways of playing or singing the same note. You can either hit the note strongly or softly. And you can also deliver it quickly or smoothly. Accents, indicated over or under the markings of notes, serve as an instruction on how to approach a certain note.
An accent mark, also referred to as an articulation mark, indicates that a louder dynamic shall be applied to a particular note. The most commonly used is the “horizontal accent“. This is what musicians refer to when they talk about accent marks.
The vertical accent may be used strongly or weakly than a horizontal accent. However, there are such inconsistencies in its practice that even informal names such as housetop, mamba-Jamba, or teepee are being utilized. In most applications, the vertical accent is played with more force and short durations.
Categories of Accents
Accents are categorized into three: dynamic, agogic, and tonic.
1) Dynamic Accent
This accent is the most common type and involves any manner that places stress on the note in terms of the sound volume. A note with the dynamic accent will be played either loudly or softly compared to the surrounding notes. It is commonly used to add “dynamics” or an “attention-catching” approach.
2) Tonic Accent
A tonic accent also called a pitch accent, is used less frequently compared to other accent types. It is done by emphasizing a note by adding the height of the pitch for inflection or “flowering” purpose.
3) Agogic Accent
This accent emphasizes a certain note by adjusting the length that is meant to be played to add some expression outlet of the musician or an effect to a certain lyric. Imagine yourself playing a sound at a measure in 4/4 time with 4 quarter notes. There is a natural accent in the first and third notes, but then you want to add some changes by adding an accent on the fourth beat.
Observe that each note has one beat. In order to add the wanted agogic accent, you only have to play that note just a bit shorter or longer than the full beat. The change of duration makes the note stand out.
The dynamic accent is the emphasis given to a single note or set of notes in a performance by a noticeable change in volume. Agogic accent is the prolonging of a sound or a pause of silence. Meanwhile, pitch accent is the inflection of pitch of a musical note or a simple additional ornament in singing style or the combination of the two.
Notes: Dynamic accents, which are reflected on a momentary increase in volume, must be differentiated from the agogic accents, which are reflected by manipulation of musical duration. The process called “syncopation” is where regular accents implied are displaced temporarily.
For instance, the first beat’s accent will be repressed by the quarter rest and trailed by a half note. Another way of looking at it is as the first beat that may be connected across a bar line to the previous note of the earlier measure instead of being substituted by a rest.
Types of Accents
For a more technical distinction, there are five types of accents: staccato, staccatissimo, marcato, accent, tenuto. One type of accent is called “accent,” but this is because the other types create emphasis yet are technically different from the general application of accentuation.
This indicates that a certain note is shortened, usually by half of its written value, in order to portray some silence in between the next note. The silence serves as a distinct separation between the adjusted note and the trailing note.
The duration might be about half of the length of the indicated note value, though the tempo and taste of performers can create smaller variations.
It’s the second symbol shown above. It essentially means a shortened staccato—it known as “very” in Italian. The staccatissimo quarter note can be played correctly in traditional Music as a softly articulated sixteenth note trailed by rests that fill the beat’s remainder.
This type of accent is the “false version” of marcato preferred by musicians who are classically trained. The correct term implied is “martelato.” Other musicians just refer to it as a “rooftop accent.”
This accent means emphasizing a note by sounding or playing it slightly louder. It can also essentially be the combination of staccato and accent, where the note is played with similar dynamics to a regular accent. Still, the length is condensed into half of the note’s original length, depending on the style or preference.
This type of accent is the “true version” of marcato referred to by musicians who are classically trained. It means emphasizing a note without lasting longer than its written value. The marked note has an emphasis at the beginning and quickly narrows down.
This type of accent can be simply referred to as “sustain.” It means that the note is accentuated by playing it slightly longer than its written value. On the music sheet, the note to be emphasized is separated with a small space with the other surrounding notes. That space indicates that the note is to be sustained for a specified duration, usually at the player’s discretion.
Musical accent, much similar to learning the speaking languages of other races and cultures, requires a lot of learning and practice. Attaining the accent that was meant to be designed or written demands diverse musical skills in order to be executed perfectly. Accents can be displayed in different ways depending on the genre of Music and the capability of playing musical instruments, including the voice.
The markings of the accent on the musical sheet can be fairly understandable. In usual practice, if the note’s stem goes up, the mark is written below. On the other hand, if the note’s stem goes down, the mark is written above. However, if the mark to be written can be hardly noticeable, it is usually written at the end of the note’s stem.
The placement of the markings can often be disregarded since the note will always be played according to being designed. Even when such symbols are absent, any musician with enough experience can initiate the appropriate signal according to the musical style.