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Common Articulations

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Staccato notes are short, with plenty of space between them. Please note that this doesn't mean that the tempo or rhythm goes any faster. The tempo and rhythm are not affected by articulations; the staccato notes sound shorter than written only because of the extra space between them.

Figure 1.77 Staccato

Legato is the opposite of staccato. The notes are very connected; there is no space between the notes at all. There is, however, still some sort of articulation that causes a slight but definite break between the notes (for example, the violin player's bow changes direction, the guitar player plucks the string again, or the wind player uses the tongue to interrupt the stream of air).

Figure 1.78 Legato

Accents - An accent requires that a note stand out more than the unaccented notes around it. Accents are usually performed by making the accented note, or the beginning of the accented note, louder than the rest of the music. Although this is mostly a quick change in dynamics, it usually affects the articulation of the note, too. The extra loudness of the note often requires a stronger, more definite attack at the beginning of the accented note, and it is emphasized by putting some space before and after the accented notes. The effect of a lot of accented notes in a row may sound marcato.

Figure 1.79 Accents
The performance of an accent depends on the style of music, but in general, sforzando and fortepiano accents involve a loud beginning to a longer note. They are usually heavier and longer than caret-type accents, which often rely more on a powerful attack (pg 58) to make a short note louder than the notes around it. 

A slur is marked by a curved line joining any number of notes. When notes are slurred, only the first note under each slur marking has a definite articulation at the beginning. The rest of the notes are so seamlessly connected that there is no break between the notes. A good example of slurring occurs when a vocalist sings more than one note on the same syllable of text.

Figure 1.80 Slurs

A tie looks like a slur, but it is between two notes that are the same pitch. A tie is not really an articulation marking. It is included here because it looks like one, which can cause confusion for beginners. When notes are tied together, they are played as if they are one single note that is the length of all the notes that are tied together. (Please see Dots, Ties, and Borrowed Divisions.)

Figure 1.81 Slurs vs. Ties
A slur marking indicates no articulation - no break in the sound - between notes of different pitches. A tie is used between two notes of the same pitch. Since there is no articulation between them, they sound like a single note. The tied quarters here would sound exactly like a half note crossing the bar line. Like a note that crosses bar lines, the two-and-a-half-beat "note" in the fourth bar would be difficult to write without using a tie. 

A portamento is a smooth glide between the two notes, including all the pitches in between. For some instruments, like violin56 and trombone57, this includes even the pitches in between the written notes. For other instruments, such as guitar58, it means sliding through all of the possible notes between the two written pitches.

Figure 1.82 Portamento

Although unusual in traditional common notation, a type of portamento that includes only one written pitch can be found in some styles of music, notably jazz, blues, and rock. As the notation (Figure 1.83) suggests, the proper performance of scoops and fall-offs requires that the portamento begins (in scoops) or ends (in fall-offs) with the slide itself, rather than with a specific note.

Figure 1.83 Scoops and Fall-offs
The notation for scoops and fall-offs has not been standardized, but either one will look something like a portamento or slur with a note on one end only. 

Some articulations may be some combination of staccato, legato, and accent. Marcato, for example means "marked" in the sense of "stressed" or "noticeable". Notes marked marcato have enough of an accent and/or enough space between them to make each note seem stressed or set apart. They are usually longer than staccato but shorter than legato. Other notes may be marked with a combination of articulation symbols, for example legato with accents. As always, the best way to perform such notes depends on the instrument and the style of the music.

Figure 1.84 Some Possible Combination Markings

Plenty of music has no articulation marks at all, or marks on only a few notes. Often, such music calls for notes that are a little more separate or defined than legato, but still nowhere as short as staccato. Mostly, though, it is up to the performer to know what is considered proper for a particular piece. For example, most ballads are sung legato, and most marches are played fairly staccato or marcato, whether they are marked that way or not. Furthermore, singing or playing a phrase with musicianship often requires knowing which notes of the phrase should be legato, which should be more separate, where to add a little portamento, and so on. This does not mean the best players consciously decide how to play each note. Good articulation comes naturally to the musician who has mastered the instrument and the style of the music.