Apollo Brass Guide to Renaissance Ornamentation
Compiled and ecited by Brian Kay, Boston, MA

Sixteenth-century performers normally ornamented music by applying running patterns called diminutions, passaggi, or gorgie. They substituted for the longer notes or groups of notes in a composition, fast moving stereotyped melodic formulas, producing a melodic variation. (Brown, Embellishing 16th Century Music, Page 1)

These formulas are catalogued in diminution manuals written by recorder player Silvestro di Ganassi (1535), viol player Diego Ortiz (1553), wind band leader, Girolamo Dalla Casa (1584), vocal and instrumental composer Giovanni Bassano (1585 and 1591), Antonio Brunelli (1614), Francesco Rognoni (1620), and others. There are many surviving examples of ricercar written using these tables to turn simpler chansons into virtuoso pieces.

These midi files are a practice resource for learning to play Renaissance diminutions by ear. Simply choose an interval and try to repeat the diminution examples in the pause after they are played. All examples start on concert F.

Seconds Up Seconds Down
Thirds Up Thirds Down
Fourths Up Fourths Down
Fifths Up Fifths Down
Sixths Up Sixths Down
Octaves Up Octaves Down


Additional Notes On Diminution

Diminutions generally begin and end on the main note of the melody to keep the counterpoint correct as composed, however, there were frequently exceptions (especially in larger intervals, where they can be filled in with steps) (Brown 23)

Performers have a freedom to occasionally deviate from the shape of the original melody. (Brown, 23)

Diminution in ensemble pieces was generally simpler than in solo pieces to avoid clashing of ornaments between the parts. (Brown, 53)

Instruments were considered more adept at intervalic skips than the voice, so diminutions with skips are more appropriate for instrumentalists.

Ornamentation was most common at cadences.

A performer ought to develop a distinguishable personal style of ornamentation.


Bassano, Giovanni. Ricercate/passaggi et cadentie. 1585. Zürich: Musikverlag zum Pelikan, 1976.

Brown, Howard Mayer. Embellishing 16th-Century Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Brunelli, Antonio. Varii esercitii. 1614. Zürich: Musikverlag zum Pelikan, 1977.

Ganassi, Silvestro. Opera intitulata Fontegara. Venice 1535. Reprint. Berlin-Lichterfelde: Lienau, 1959. Ortiz, Diego. Tratado de glosas sobre clausulas y otros generos de puntos en la musica de violones. Roma 1553. übertragen von Max Schneider. Kassel; New York: Bärenreiter, 1961.

Rognoni, Francesco. Selva de varii passaggi Vol 1. 1620. herausgegeben von Richard Erig. Zürich: Musik Hug, 1987.

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