I learned about grace notes when my daughters were studying music. Here’s one account:
A grace note should perhaps be thought of as an extra bit of flourish by the composer and player. Many call a grace note an “ornament” to be used in the ornamentation of music.
In music notation, a grace note is printed smaller than a regular note, sometimes with a slash through the note stem (more slashes can mean more grace notes from the same stem). Although grace notes are written in a particular way for a particular effect, the way they are played is often left to the discretion of the player (or conductor). Normally, a grace note does not take up a place in the music’s structure. In other words, it neither adds or detracts time from the notes around it and isn’t a part of the total time value of a particular line of music.
In symphonic music, grace notes are used to help express the music’s (and composer’s) intent. To create the effect, a flute player, for example, may very quickly press and release a key to create a grace note. A violinist may make a short, sharp movement of their bow the add the effect of a grace note. Playing a grace note on a trumpet could mean pressing a valve and releasing it almost instantaneously.
Many other genres of music use grace notes but in many different ways. A Blues guitarist, for example, will use “hammer ons,” “pull offs,” and “bends” on the strings of the guitar to add a vocal-like effect to the music. The music resulting from these effects (call them grace notes for lack of a better term) are very expressive and moving. As most Blues music is highly improvised, written music (and the grace notes that might appear in the music) is not common.
I have a sense that much of the richness of life consists of grace notes, little flourishes that we add, that in some sense count for nothing, but which elevate everyday occurrences into something special. It isn’t the trip to Disneyland that we think back on when we remember our parents, but little things like making cookies or standing on the front porch watching the storms develop.
Yesterday I was sitting in a meeting; I kept noticing that I wasn’t listening all that closely. And I’d look at my friend, and he would be shaking his head in agreement. He regularly remembers conversations better than I do. It’s hard for me to tell whether this is just laziness on my part, or stupidity, or because I attend more to different things in a conversation–the music of the conversation rather than the propositional content, the larger context, or what we might call the politics of the moment.