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Nothing in music is set in stone, fortunately, and thus reading on paper and trying to make sense of the ever-changing attributes of a musical articulation is no mean feat; tradition passed through the capable hands of an instructor is always paramount here, but various means of passing knowledge are in vogue today, such as trivial articles like the one you read right now, but that’s ok. So, please allow me to try to oversimplify the ever-defined Staccato:

 

Staccato is when a note sounds equal or shorter than half of its original value.

 

But, is it always the case that a note that doesn’t sport its full sounding-length is a staccato note?
Staccato differs from non-legato, mezzo-staccato and, of course, staccatissimo, even though it shares with them the same principle of duration-deprivation. However, what makes it different to its siblings and, more importantly, how can we be certain we are indeed articulate it correctly in our piece instead of something else? Let’s find out a bit more:

 

Main characteristics:

 

1.        To start with, for a staccato note to emanate the aesthetic of shortness it must not carry its full value—that goes without saying, of course, and every pianist would firmly make this assertion without qualification.
2.        Then, a note should not sound “pointy” and sharp, because if it does, it would lean towards the staccatissimo sphere; so, yes, staccato is short but not that pointy.
3.        The aftertaste or aftertouch of staccato, as we call it, should not linger around but should be prompt. So, pointy is again the word here, and as a general rule, we should avoid playing our notes in that manner.
4.        If we were forced to define staccato in “mathematical terms”, we would say that it should occupy up to half of the length of a note’s exact duration: If, for instance, we had a staccato on a crotchet, it should only be able to divide the crotchet in up to its half—no more, but it could be less. See example below:

 

staccato in Bach
Like many of my colleagues, in my annotated edition of Petzold’s minuets in G, I support that the
crotchets on the second bar of the G major minuet should be short to facilitate the sense of optimism
that this minuet arguably manifests—the facsimile, of course, does not explicitly
indicate this universal editorial preference. Ideally, those notes should be held until we have reached to the mid
point of the note’s length—however, we must make sure here not to play non-legato if our intention is to play
staccato. So,
let’s see staccato graphically:

 

bach staccato

 

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Copyright © 1st of February 2020 by Nikos Kokkinis

 

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