The idea of grace notes sounds like something just for Baroque music. Ornamented melodies. The idea is to approach a target note from above or below in various ways to add interest. It can be “too much” at times. The argument could be made that if the melody were strong enough, it wouldn’t need grace notes. It can come across as showing off too much. But it does work! And it can make you appear to play much faster than you think you can play. I revisited the idea of grace notes using a jazz standard and some blues and country music and found some interesting results.
It makes me play faster.
The grace notes generally have to fall into being some subdivision of eighth notes, eight-note-triplets, or sixteenth notes or something even smaller. The point is, it’s a challenge to switch between these smaller subdivisions, and then into something like a quarter-note melody. And do it smoothly. Grace notes can help make this seem easier. It seems easier and not so much of a big deal to rip off a few sixteenth notes in the context of a slow melody. You can do it on any beat. Focus on one beat a time. Approach beat one with grace notes and play the rest of the bar as written. Then try it on beat two. You get the idea. Mix it up. If you have an eight-note oriented melody then you can also try in on the “ands”. That is harder but it will add immediate interest in your melody.
It makes me more aware of the target note.
You have to know where you are going before you can dress up a target note. I thought I knew the melody of Georgia and found out very quickly that I really didn’t. I was used to the intervals of the melody as written. But when I tried to dress it up with grace notes I was suddenly in over my head. I found that if I was jumping off from an unfamiliar note… I was not sure where I was supposed to land. This forced me to learn the melody in a better way.
It helps me phrase more cleanly.
Something about using grace notes made me more deliberate in my phrasing. There are going to be more notes to deal with and so there are more opportunities to accent the phrase in different ways. You’ll just have to try it to see what I mean.
It makes the lines without grace notes stand out.
My original idea was the opposite of this. My original idea was that the lines with grace notes would catch your ear more than the “plain” lines. And that is the initial effect. But to my surprise, the “plain” lines are even more beautiful than I had thought if they have ornamented lines before them. The overall effect is to really fall in love with a melody as written.
It makes me think about the harmony more.
The fact is you’ll have to play some actual notes as grace notes. So you can make this anything you want. It can be a simple half step approach from below or above. A whole step approach. You can do the upper-neighbor, lower-neighbor approach. You can outline the chord. You can outline a different chord entirely! You can outline the original chord and then land on a substitute chord. You can play some random notes as grace notes. You can even just hit the piano lid as grace notes. Just get them in there!
This one concept can make a near-instant change in your playing. Have fun!
Obviously, we don't know everything. But we do tend to think differently. Here are some of my thoughts on piano and maybe some on life. I play piano for Tracy Lawrence, produce new artists, write and practice piano.