What does a comma (,) mean above notes?

I’ve just been studying @benwiggy arrangement of O Danny Boy with a view to inputing it into Dorico, and noticed these commas , above certain notes. What are they for?

Do you mean breath marks? Could you provide an example?

Yes - breath marks. A short gap between the notes, either for breath or to emphasise punctuation…

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Great, thanks Ed, I thought they might have been some sort of articulation.

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(I would probably have broken the beaming too but that’s a matter of style perhaps)

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Have you, now…? :wink:

Yes, it’s a bit of a fix, just to make it clear that the breath shouldn’t cut in to the preceding quaver; there should be extra time to allow for it. It could probably have been written out better.

I sang an arrangement of this by a ‘well-known choral arranger’, and was so incensed by its mediocrity that I felt driven to produce this one.


I call this “accordion time”. That little extra lift that some accordion players need to switch direction of the bellows that imitates natural breath. The imagery of stretching bellows has helped my students.


As a learning aid - your site is full of wonderful scores!

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So how would one implement this breath mark? Slow the tempo slightly for a beat and then shorten the playback length in the Key Editor? (And hope one did not have to do that individually for an entire orchestra :flushed:)

Playback End Offset is a property. Draw a marquee selection and apply it once. It really shouldn’t take more than two or three times longer than applying it to a single note, regardless of the size of orchestra.

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Years ago, I played with a very fine community symphony. The conductor, Edward Mumm, was concertmaster of the local pro orchestra. He referred to this kind of “lift” as a “sniff”. “Put a little sniff there” after which he’d sniff just to drive the point home.

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I just think of it as a breath - like a human breath, so you don’t run out of air… I can’t think of a simpler way to describe it!


If you’ve ever had the privilege of directing a choir with any regularity, you’ll know that there are lots of…creative… things that people try to do to fit in breaths, and many of them are terrible, lol.


I have! And they do :wink:

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I’ve mentioned previously the terrible spacing that Dorico comes up with by default when lyrics are involved (I’ll write a proper analysis sometime) but why aren’t people cringing when they see examples such as O Danny Boy above?

FWIW as a wind player I’ve never seen a breath mark printed in the score, instead either naturally or intentionally lines are written with pretty obvious places to breathe. Waste of ink and effort I guess, anyhow at most we pencil them in. As a composer I unaccountably stop myself from wanting to use them.

Is it different for vocalists? I did plenty of amateur singing in concert but don’t remember anything special.

That was my joking way of pointing out that nominally trained singers can make terrible breathing choices, at least at times, ergo: it can be very prudent to mark where they should breathe (if for no other case than unity of placement).

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Yes, in my (somewhat limited) experience directing choirs, I have seen it used more as a “this is where the final “d” should sound” and less of a “take a breath here” kind of thing. The music I have worked on have used them very sparingly.

I’ve seen plenty of scores that have them throughout; it’s really an editing decision as much as anything.

Personally, I find them most useful to use where breaths either aren’t obvious (or simply need to be explicit for some reason), or where different voices need to breathe at different times. This latter case proves very useful because people, in general, are trained to breathe together, so sometimes it feels “wrong” to take a breath out of sync with other parts. Explicit permission gives a sigh of relief, as it were.

(Another side benefit is that placing them ahead of time saves rehearsal time.)