A Guide to the Staccato Articulation

The Definition of Staccato

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The staccato is a music articulation which indicates that a music note should be played separated from its neighboring notes. A word of Italian origin, staccato literally means "detached." Similar terms for this musical effect include the French détaché and piqué, and the German kurz, abgeschmackt and abgestossen.

Music that is played staccato creates a contrast to the singing style of the legato articulation. An exaggerated version of the staccato is ​staccatissimo, also of Italian origin. 

When written in succession, the staccato creates a short, percussive effect, similar to heeled shoes tapping on the pavement or rain pattering against a window. Since the staccato creates an articulation that is crisp and short, it can be applied to pitched or unpitched music. 

Notating the Staccato in Music

In music notation, the staccato is marked with a small black dot that is placed directly above or below the notehead. The staccato should not be confused with a dotted note, where the dot is placed beside the notehead and changes the value of the note.

Examples of the Staccato

The staccato articulation is used frequently in all genres of music. However, it may be difficult to detect the staccato if you are not yet familiar with its characteristics. Listening to some music that contains only staccato articulations may be a good way to better understand how the staccato sounds in music performance.

Some of these examples can be easily found on YouTube:

  • Piano example: Anton Rubinstein, Etude in C, Op. 23, No. 2
  • Flute example: Joachim Anderson, 24 Etudes for Flute, Op. 33, Study No. 15
  • Cello example: David Popper, High School of Cello Playing, Op. 73, No. 1

Staccato Technique

Playing staccato notes accurately in music performance requires musicians to develop staccato technique. The technical approach to staccato execution varies by instrument, but because it is a common technical requirement, many études (also called studies or exercises) are written to hone in on this technical skill. All three examples above are studies for developing staccato technique, allowing the musician to build a staccato technique by focusing on playing the staccato notes as precisely as possible.