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I'm writing a piano piece where r.h. is meant to play staccato for a large section. Instead of adding staccato dots to all the notes, it seems simpler to me to state "All staccato" above the staff. But then there's a section where r.h. should revert to play normally, i.e. non-staccato. Is there a specific term I could use, or will stating "non-staccato" do?

4 Answers 4

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If you want to stick to the traditional Italian:

  • then you should use sempre stacc. (sempre staccato) for the staccato section. (Some prefer the words in the other order i.e. staccato sempre)
  • and then either norm. (normale), or nat. (naturale), or ord. (ordinario) for the non staccato section. It would also probably be fine to just use non stacc. (non staccato).
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  • This sounds like a good solution
    – Creynders
    Apr 2 at 10:26
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    I vote for “non staccato” (or equivalent in another language) over anything generic like “ord.” or “norm.”; depending what else is going on, it can be confusing which instructions you’re canceling out. Being specific is good! Apr 2 at 15:27
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    At least one notation reference (Gould) recommends writing out a couple bars with explicit staccato marks before writing "stacc. sempre" above/below the staff. Apr 2 at 18:34
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    @MichaelSeifert Or, alternatively, writing "sim." Apr 3 at 3:01
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    I (and probably a lot of casual musicians) would have trouble understanding norm./nat./ord., but non stacc. would be clear. Apr 3 at 23:25
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It's simpler, and clearer, to write the dots. Doesn't matter if it goes on for 20 pages, write the dots. They're part of the notes. You want 100 notes, write 100 notes. They're all staccato, write 100 dots.

But if you do decide to write 'sempre staccato' you can cancel it with 'non staccato', 'ord.' or 'norm.'. Not 'legato'. That's different to just 'not staccato'.

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    I don't agree the dots are clearer. With lots of notes and dots it's sometimes hard to see at a glance whether it's all dots or not. So, if there's a situation where you can leave them out, I definitely think it's more legible to simply state them as such. We do the same with "sempre legato", even though slurs are a LOT more discernible than dots.
    – Creynders
    Apr 2 at 11:41
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    Repeating the same instruction over and over for an extended passage is harder to read, and distracting from the rest of the music. Apr 2 at 12:04
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    The funny part is that Musescore will force you to put all the staccatos in anyway in order for playback to work. Hide staccatos and put simile markings in later.
    – Dekkadeci
    Apr 2 at 13:47
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    I'd find that pretty annoying, page after page, and be thinking 'there must be a better way'.
    – Tim
    Apr 2 at 13:53
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    Staccato dots are about the least distracting notation you could add, so that doesn't seem like a deciding factor. However, that also means that it's least obvious when they stop after a long section! So whether you use them or not, I'd certainly advise a more conspicuous way of highlighting the return to non-staccato (e.g. with the relevant Italian term, in parens if appropriate).
    – gidds
    Apr 2 at 20:50
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I'd write 'staccato r.h.' and put in a couple of bars with the staccato dots, then 'simile'.

At the end of that section, 'legato', or 'non-staccato' perhaps with staccato dots on the last couple of bars before.

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    Legato seems to be something else than non-staccato, no? Why would you otherwise note legato passages with a slur?
    – Creynders
    Apr 2 at 10:26
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    Now THAT would be confusing! First you instruct 'play staccato' twice, with words AND dots. Then we have to infer that 'simile' refers to the staccato, not to any other attribute of the music. Then, at the end, another double instruction - 'simile' is not cancelled but the dots have come back. Lastly, 'non-staccato' is not 'legato'. Just write the dots! Apr 2 at 11:04
  • @LaurencePayne - in the absence of any other attributes (none were mentioned) then the staccato instruction could only mean that. Opposite of staccato - legato. Found in many places.
    – Tim
    Apr 2 at 13:55
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    @Tim Staccato and Legato are two extremes. There's a middle way! If you want a 'sempre' notation, I think it's a few bars of dots, THEN 'stacc. sempre'. Not both at once. Apr 2 at 16:59
  • @LaurencePayne - I actually like this answer. In practice composers often go for contrasts in texture. Apr 9 at 4:41
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You have a section where the r.h. plays staccato throughout, followed by a section where the r.h. doesn't play staccato. In this case, unless your so-called "section" is extremely short compared to the usual Western music (Pop/rock/jazz/classical/etc.), usually musicians strive for maximal contrast between sections and will play legato, as long as you notate some slurs/phrase marks. Also, because of this, it's natural to have legato for your second section in question, instead of some kind of in-between articulation like mezzo-staccato.

So in my opinion, in the non-staccato section, it would be best to notate the phrases with slurs (a common practice), provided no notes in that part are to played staccato, and notate any extra articulations you want (e.g. tenuto, accents, marcato). If there are a few notes in the non-staccato section you want to be played staccato, mark them staccato, with no slur going over those notes.

Another thing to consider is that legato is often inferred from style or context, not explicitly written. A slur on the violin part simply means the notes have to played in the same bow, and in the absence of any other articulation markings, it would be legato, but not necessarily so when there's e.g. staccato dots as well. On the other hand, distinct slurs following one another need not have audible breaks between them, as is testified by the various classical repertoire and their respective common performance practice.

Essentially what I'm saying is that if you just tell the pianist to not play staccato in the second section, they will most naturally play legato, even though technically you didn't tell them play legato and they could've played mezzo staccato instead for example.

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