Question: Why don't composers write exactly what they want with a
precise length for a note and a rest rather than use imprecise staccato marks?
- Staccato is an Italian word meaning detached or separated.
- Staccato is normally indicated on each individual note
by placing a small dot above or below the head of the note, on the
opposite side from the stem:
- A note with a staccato mark on it should be played detached, therefore the
actual sound of each crotchet in this
example should be something like a quaver
followed by a quaver rest:
- However, this is only general guidance; the "amount" of staccato, i.e. the
length of the note compared to the length of the following rest will depend on
the speed and style of the piece, and perhaps even the acoustics.
- The dot has only become standard in the last couple of hundred years. Before that,
a small wedge-shape was used in the same position:
- The convention now is that the wedge shape is an even shorter staccato, i.e. less
note and more rest, and there is also an implication of an accent on the note.
- Notes with staccato dots and also covered by a slur are
intended to be less staccato than normal, i.e. more note and less rest.
- Whatever ratio of note to rest is used, they must add up to the same length as
the original note.
- Occasionally, you may see an Italian direction indicating a section should be
all staccato, normally it will say "sempre staccato" meaning
- Staccato is the opposite of legato meaning smoothly (literally "bound"),
i.e. a smooth connection between notes, without breaks.
Answer: A staccato mark is a mark of expression (like
dynamics markings and speed indications)
rather than a precise note specification. A composer leaves the exact interpretation to the performer.
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