In music, an accent is an emphasis, stress, or stronger attack placed on a particular note or set of notes, or chord, either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark. Accents contribute to the articulation and prosody of a performance of a musical phrase. Accents may be written into a score or part by a composer or added by the performer as part of his or her interpretation of a musical piece.
Compared to surrounding notes:
- A dynamic accent or stress accent is an emphasis using louder sound or a stronger articulation, typically most pronounced on the attack of the sound.
- A tonic accent is an emphasis on notes by virtue of being higher in pitch as opposed to higher in volume.
- An agogic accent is an emphasis by virtue of being longer in duration.
Accents which do not correspond to the stressed beats of the prevailing meter are said to be syncopated. For example, in common time, also called 4/4, the most common metre in popular music, the stressed beats are one and three. If chords or notes are played on beats two or four, this creates syncopation, as the music is emphasizing the "weak" beats of the bar. Syncopation is used in Classical music, popular music and traditional music. However, it is more prominent in blues, jazz, funk, disco and Latin music.
There are four kinds of agogic accents :
- Longer notated duration of a note, for example, a whole note (four beats in common time) among quarter notes (each of which gets one beat).
- Extended duration of a note within its full-time value (without altering the tempo). For example, players of organ and harpsichord (which do not allow the use of dynamic accents) can emphasize one of a sequence of staccato quarter notes by making it less staccato (that is, making one note longer to emphasize it).
- Extended duration of a note with the effect of temporarily slowing down the tempo (rubato or rallentendo).
- Delayed onset of a note, for example by doing a pause before starting a note.
In music notation, an accent mark indicates a louder dynamic and a stronger attack to apply to a single note or an articulation mark. The most common is the horizontal accent, the fourth symbol in the diagram above; this is the symbol that most musicians mean when they say accent mark. The vertical accent, third in the diagram, may be stronger or weaker than the horizontal accent; composers have never been consistent in using these markings. In most musical works this type of accent is meant to be played more forcefully and usually shorter. The remaining marks typically shorten a note.
- Staccato, the first symbol shown above, indicates that the last part of a note should be silenced to create separation between it and the following note. For example, a written quarter note should be played as an eighth note followed by an eighth rest. The duration of a staccato note may be about half as long as the note value would indicate, although the tempo and performers' taste varies this quite a bit. In jazz articulation, it is stated as "dit".
- The staccatissimo, shown second, is usually interpreted as shorter than the staccato, but composers up to the time of Mozart used these symbols interchangeably. A staccatissimo crotchet (quarter note) would be correctly played in traditional art music as a lightly articulated semi-quaver (sixteenth note) followed by rests which fill the remainder of the beat.
- The marcato, which is Italian for "well marked", shown third, the vertical open wedge, is generally accepted to be as loud as an accent mark and as short as a staccato. Martellato, Italian for "hammered", is another name for the marcato symbol used primarily by orchestral string musicians as it refers to the specific bowing technique used to create marcato. In jazz articulation, marcato is typically stated as "daht" yet the performing musician may interpret the duration of the note differently depending on what style of jazz he or she is playing.
- The fourth mark shown, the accent mark, indicates that the marked note should have an emphasized beginning and then taper off rather quickly. This mark is correctly known by classically trained musicians as marcato, though it is usually simply referred to as an accent. In jazz articulation, it is stated as "dah".
- The tenuto mark, shown fifth above, has three meanings. It may indicate that a note or chord is to be played at full length or longer; it may indicate that a note or chord is to be played a bit louder; or it may indicate that a note is to be separated with a little space from surrounding notes. The last meaning is usually inferred when there are several notes with tenuto marks in a row, especially under a slur. Tenuto is Italian for "sustained". In jazz articulation, it is stated as "doo".
Even when these symbols are absent, experienced musicians will introduce the appropriate gesture according to the style of the music. Mark McGrain writes about articulation on page 156 in his book Music Notation: Theory and Technique for Music Notation. The marcato accent in the third mark shown is also known as the forzato accent. The notation commonly known as just an accent is also known as the sforzando accent. "Neither of these accents alter the durational value of the note or voicing they attend."
Another way to indicate accented notes (notes to emphasize or play louder compared to surrounding notes) is with sforzando, sforzato, forzando or forzato (abbreviated sfz, sf, or fz) ("forcing" or "forced").
Percussion music in particular makes use as well of anti-accent marks, notated as follows:
- slightly softer than surrounding notes: ◡ (breve)
- significantly softer than surrounding notes: ( ) (note head in parentheses)
- much softer than surrounding notes: [ ] (note head in brackets)