Staccato is the Italian word for “separated,” or “detached.” Staccato notes are notes that are not sustained for their full rhythmic value: they come to a short stop, which separates them from notes that follow. They also usually have a clean, sharply articulated start. The opposite of staccato is legato, which means “connected.” Composers often specifically indicate that notes or passages should be played staccato, and they do so by placing dots, dashes, or little wedges over the notes in question. String players play staccato by manipulating the bow so that it stops and starts cleanly between notes. Woodwind and brass players use a technique called “tonguing,” which involves using the tongue to interrupt the flow of air into the mouthpiece or reed. And pianists play staccato by varying their touch—by lifting their fingers quickly off the keys between notes, for example, while not depressing the sustaining pedal.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.