Play Legato, Non-Legato, and Staccato Notes on the Piano

Edited by Jacob, Eng, Anonymous, JasperEsp and 3 others

Understanding how to play legato, non-legato, and staccato notes is one of the fundamental things that every pianist should know. In this article we explain what legato, non-legato, and staccato are, and we explain how you can play them. Read on to find out everything you need to know about legato, non-legato, and staccato.

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Legato

Legato is an Italian word which means "tied together".

Legato is a method of playing notes, which indicates how they should be played. This method is used in most instruments, including the strings, brass, and wood wind instruments. To play legato, each note must be connected and smooth, with no pause between them. Any time you see a slur, which is a curved line below or above the notes, it means you'll need to play them legato.

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Yassora 1603151145-meme.jpg

The slur is also used for the strings, indicating that the player should play the group of notes in one bow, and is used in woodwind and brass instruments, where the player should play the group of notes without using the tongue to articulate each note.

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You should not confuse a slur with a tie, which is a curved line just like slur. The difference is that a tie links two of the same notes, adding their durations together.

For example here you should play C E G, instead of playing C E E G.

Tie.png

Practicing the scales legato is the best exercise to learn this method. Follow the steps below to learn how to play legato on the piano:

  1. 1
    Start with the C Major Scale, and slowly play one octave up with both of your hands.
    Legato-c-major.png
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  2. 2
    Try to play each note connected to the next one.
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  3. 3
    Gradually try to increase your speed and add more octaves.
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  4. 4
    Remember to always observe how you're holding your wrists.
    They must be relaxed and stable at all times.
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  5. 5
    Once you can play three octaves up, you should practice playing three octaves down.
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  6. 6
    When you've mastered playing the C Major Scale at a normal tempo (speed), you should then try to play the scale as fast as you can.
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  7. 7
    In a group of legato notes, the first one is always strong and loud, and the last note of the group is always soft.
    Legato-tips.png
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  8. 8
    Now you should be able to play a C Major Scale legato, so you can move on and try to play other scales legato.
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Non-legato

Non-legato is also known as porto, portamento, semi-staccato, mezzo-staccato, slurred staccato.

Non-legato is a method of playing a group of notes. This method indicates that the group of notes should not be played connected. As a result, there should be a pause between each note. For showing non-legato there are two ways:

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  1. 1
    Without a slur.
    Legato-Non-legato.png
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  2. 2
    With a dot and a slur.
    Non-Legato-Legato.png
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Just like practicing legato, the best exercise for this method is practicing scales non-legato. This exercise can help you learn to play legato, and improve finger strength. Follow these steps to practice this exercise:

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  1. 1
    You should start to practice playing non-legato with the simplest scales, like C Major, or a minor.
    Note that Major is always capitalized and minor is always lowercase when writing them.
    C-Major-portamento.png
    A-minor-non-legato.png
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  2. 2
    Try to play each note separately from the next one.
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  3. 3
    When you want to play a non-legato note, you start with holding your wrist in a normal position
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  4. 4
    Then your wrist moves up, while you play the note with your fingers.
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  5. 5
    Your wrists must be always relaxed for playing piano.
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  6. 6
    You should play very slowly and strong.
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  7. 7
    Gradually increase your speed.
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  8. 8
    Once you can play the scale of your choice easily at a normal speed, move on and play other tonalities.
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Staccato

Staccato is an Italian word that means 'detached'.

Staccato, like non-legato and legato, is a method of performing a note. Staccato is played in the same style as non-legato, but it has a sharper and shorter sound. It is always shown by a dot below or above the notes.

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Legato-Non-legato-Staccato.png

Just like other exercises to learn and improve your technique in playing staccato notes you should try to practice scales staccato. Follow the steps below to practice this exercise step by step:

  1. 1
    You should start with the simplest scales like C Major and a minor.
    C-Major-staccato.png
    A-minor-portamento.png
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  2. 2
    Try to play the scale of your choice very slowly.
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  3. 3
    You should play each note very short and sharp.
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  4. 4
    In order to play staccato, you should move the position of your wrists from down to up.
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  5. 5
    At the same time, play the notes with your fingers.
    Just keep in mind that this step is only for beginners.
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  6. 6
    As you get better you should only be playing notes with your fingers, and your wrists must be stable, instead of moving up and down.
    This is because when you're playing slowly, it's possible to move your wrists, but when you're playing fast, you don't have enough time to change the position of your wrists for each note.
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  7. 7
    While you're practicing scales using staccato, gradually increase your speed.
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  8. 8
    When you're able to perform the scale of your choice, move on and practice other scales.
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Notation Tips for Legato, Non-legato, and Staccato Notes

  • For writing notes, the tail of each note should be upward until the third line. After the third line the tails should be downward.
  • For writing slurs, dots or ties, when the tails of the notes are upward, you should write them below the notes. When they are downward, you should write them above the notes.

Notation-Tail-Notes.png

Questions and Answers

Are notes without slurs nor staccato marks played exactly the same as portato?

If portato marked notes are played the same as notes without any markings, then why mark some notes with portato?

Portato notes are played somewhere in between staccato and legato, which endows the sounds with a certain feeling of vibration or pulsation instead of a smooth or abrupt set of notes. Legato is smooth and silky; staccato is rough and choppy; portato utilizes both: it takes legato and slightly emphasizes, or slightly shortens, the notes like in staccato. One of the most popular techniques to play portato is to brush the keys with your fingers.

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What is the meaning of non staccato?

I want a definition for non staccato in music. I have tried: I tried in Google thousands of times. It was now I saw this site.

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Trying to learn staccato. Total beginner in the piano here?

Total beginner in the piano here. Trying to learn Bartok #6 ('for children'), study for the left hand. Any YouTube videos that clearly show how to do staccato?. I have tried: Nothing yet, except on my own, and browsing internet a bit

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Recent edits by: jessica shegin, VisiHow, JasperEsp

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