Making space and punctuation

Many baroque composers and theorists talk about music in terms of words and sentences, where a complete musical 'sentence' (concluded by a cadence) may be seen as made up of smaller phrases (sub clauses or even individual words). Just as a speaker would breathe at commas and full stops, so a piece of music needs its own punctuation. Where composers from later periods often indicate breathing space with a rest or a comma, baroque composers tended to leave it to the intuition of the performer. The fact that there are no rests in a piece doesn't mean we don't make any breaks!

Our music makes more sense if we include punctuation points, but, we don't want to interrupt the flow by introducing a lot of 'stopping and starting'. In order to introduce some punctuation into your performance, you may find it better not to play every note to its full length. For example, it may be advisable slightly to shorten a long note at the end of a phrase in order to make some space before beginning the new phrase; thus allowing the music to breathe without interrupting the underlying pulse. This, of course, is what a singer or wind instrumentalist has to do in order to keep going!

Video Resources

In this clip, Nick explains how we should consider the way we speak when phrasing Telemann's Largo.

Sometimes we can hear 'questions' inflected in the music. On some occasions, the viola asks and answers its own questions, on others it is in 'conversation' with the orchestra:

Video Resources

Here, Nick looks at how a player can imitate the spoken voice by introducing 'punctuation' or 'air' between the notes. He explains how, making a gap before the second beat of the bar highlights the characteristic yearning sarabande rhythm, which leans towards the second beat of the bar.

Video Resources

Here, Nick explores making space between the bow strokes in the Allegro:

Video Resources

1 - Understanding Sarabandes

2 - Phrasing and articulation

3 - Ornamentation

3 - Vibrato

3 - Syncopation and Playfulness in the Allegro

3 - Bowing in the Allegro



What is historically informed performance practice?

An introduction to historically informed performance practice of baroque music, and a look at period instruments and bows.


Allemande from JS Bach's Suite no. 1 in G for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007

Ruth Alford explores this movement in the light of other baroque music for 'cello.


Giga from J S Bach's Partita no. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004

Helen Kruger looks at what what baroque theorists had to say about bowing, phrasing and articulation and applies it to this movement.


Largo and Allegro from G P Telemann's Viola Concerto in G, TWV51:G9

Nicholas Logie discusses phrasing, ornamentation and vibrato.


Further Reading