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:
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:
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!