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You Say Staccato and I Say Legato: Articulation in Music

Updated on July 31, 2019
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Playing Staccato & Legato on the Piano or Keyboard

Confused by the terms staccato and legato? This exercise could be just what you need.

Find out what the terms mean, how to play both on the piano, and listen to how they should sound. You can even print off a sample score.

What Staccato Means

Staccato is the term used to describe a method of playing notes so that they are detached. It doesn't mean "short" as some people think. The rhythm remains the same. The trick is to take your finger off the key after playing, as explained in detail below.

Here's a picture of what staccato music looks like.

What Legato Means

Legato, on the other hand, means smooth and connected. It refers to a style of playing in which you move from one note to the next as smoothly as possible, without taking your fingers off the keys.

The picture below shows some music written to be played in a legato fashion. Notice the slurs or curved lines under the notes.

How to Play Staccato

To play staccato, the notes with the dots above or below them, the easiest way is to pull your fingers towards you.

Start with one finger, such as your middle finger, and place it on the key. Then, pull your finger towards you as you press the key down. This technique makes it virtually impossible that your fingers will stay in contact with the keys.

How to Play Legato

Legato is the opposite of staccato, of course. So to play legato, try to keep your fingers on the keys as you move from one to another.

One way to do this is to imagine the tip of each finger is sticking to the keys. You want to imagine you're playing a cello with long, drawn out bow strokes.

Staccato in Music

Below you'll see the opening phrase from my score Staccato - Legato Study. Notice the dots below the notes which tell you to play in a detached manner. If you're still confused, have a listen to the score.

Legato in Music

The graphic below shows the same phrase taken from later in the same piece, where the markings this time indicate to play in a legato fashion. Notice the slurs under the notes. You'll also notice that the notes are quarter notes now, and that each phrase ends with a half note to make the difference even more obvious.

Try playing the right or left hand of this, and the graphic in the previous step above, to get a feel for it.

Simple Comparisons

Staccato is like single raindrops hitting a tin roof. Legato is like a continuous wind blowing across a field. One is short and detached, while the other is long and smooth.

The Difference between Staccato and Legato

Staccato and Legato Together

As you can see, staccato and legato are opposites of each other, giving the music you play either a smooth and elegant feel, or a jumpy and nervy edge.

Try playing the complete piece all the way through, one hand at a time to start with. Or practice playing any of your favorite pieces one way and then the other to really nail it!


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    • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from England

      Thanks Thomas. Wasn't sure if the title was OTT, but I like it anyway.

    • ThomasBaker profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      I play classical piano and I appreciate what a good job you have done here with your explanation. Good title as well.


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