Maintaining direction in staccato passages

February 16, 2014

In my last post, I pointed out that staccato notes are not always exactly “detached,” even though they may give that impression. Now let’s consider how this sense of detachment, real or false, can disrupt a phrase.

To make a legato phrase sound like a unified idea, all I have to do as a minimum is make sure my air doesn’t stop: my fingers and tongue delineate individual notes, but the sound is continuous. But with a staccato phrase, the sound stops (at least sort of). We could perhaps visualize it this way, with each box representing a note:

staccato notes

There’s not a clear sense of continuity—each note is an island.

But I can make the notes sound like they belong together, without eliminating the space between them. For example, suppose I give the passage a subtle crescendo:

staccato notes, with crescendo

The space between the notes is the same, but now there is a clear relationship. It’s obvious that the individual notes, though detached, make up a single structure and not six separate ones.

A bit of crescendo is a reliable and tasteful way to do this in many cases, but really any variable aspect of musical expression could ostensibly be used: decrescendo, change in tone color, change in vibrato, accelerando or ritardando, or just about anything else that can be varied continuously across a group of notes. Make sure each note you play serves a larger phrase!



  1. Robin Tropper

    The idea is not to think in terms of each individual note, but rather think of the entire phrase…. it just happens that the notes are played short, that’s all. It’s like impressionist painting with dabs versus long brush strokes, you still look at the whole canvas, not each dot in turn.


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