I've been working on this piece by Sousa, and I came across this oddity: Snippet

Does this mean to play these notes somehow legato and staccato at the same time? If so, how would I play it? If not, what does it mean?

P.S., this is written for a Bb Cornet.

  • In terms of violin, what I would do is play those notes with the same bow (without changing the direction of the bow for the next note) while reducing the value of the 16th notes by half along with a half rest. I think these are called semi-staccatos. If you play windwood, then perhaps you blow once for both notes? Commented May 12, 2014 at 12:19
  • On the violin it is simply called staccato, well up bow staccato since you would typically play it with an up bow when it is an up beat. You would often play it that way whether the slurs are printed on the sheet or not. BUT since this is not a violin part it must mean something else, and you can see from the different answers below that it is a very opinion-based matter. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 9:54

12 Answers 12


I concur with @slim regarding this being a phrase marking, and not a slur or legato mark.

I think the reason for it being there at all is to indicate that the two groups of three notes (F, A, D) are not to be phrased as such - rather, the semiquavers are to be phrased together in such a way as to stand apart from the D that follows.

Without the phrase marking, the 'default' assumption would be that the semiquavers are merely passing/grace notes leading to the D, which would render them less significant than if they were played as marked, in a (short) phrase of their own.

That said, I find it curious that this is only marked on the first line and not in the otherwise identical pattern that follows on the second - I'd have expected to see a simile instruction or similar*.

*No pun intended

  • Yes, I also found it odd that the second time does not have similar construction. It might have been a typo.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 14:04

This could be an instance of portato. Via wikipedia:

Portato (Italian, past participle of portare, "to carry") in music denotes a smooth, pulsing articulation and is often notated by adding dots under slur markings.

Portato, also known as articulated legato or slurred staccato or semi-staccato or mezzo-staccato, that means "moderately detached". It is a style of playing between staccato and legato, and is also referred to as non-legato. Mezzo-staccato notes are held for a longer time than with standard staccato notes, but none of the notes is attached to the next.

This blog post describes the technique further, and mentions that this particular form of notation could also be interpreted as slim described:

Portato is sometimes called mezzo-staccato, and it can also be indicated with slurs over staccato marks. However, slurs over staccatos does not always imply portato articulation: sometimes a slur mark is not an articulation mark at all, but simply a structural indication of note groupings which might effect dynamic shaping and rubato instead of articulation. In other words, composers are allowed to group even very staccato notes (marked with pointy “staccatissimo” signs) under a slur to indicate where phrases begin and end.


You should play this passage portato, as if each of the note were marked with a tenuto. I.e., you should detach each note, but play them to their full length.


It seems to me that a pair of notes cannot be both legato and staccato at the same time.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that these are not slurs but phrase marks.

Per Wikipedia:

The slur is not to be confused with two other similar musical symbols. The tie is a curved line that links two notes of the same pitch to show that their durations are to be added together. The phrase mark is a curved line that extends over a passage which is visually indistinguishable from the slur, and indicates that the passage is to be interpreted as a single phrase.

So you should phrase such that the two staccato notes feel like a phrase on their own, rather than being part of a phrase including the preceding or following notes.


This is an articulation symbol called semi-staccato. It is meant to be performed exactly as its name implies; halfway between smoothly connected and detached, with only a slight disconnect between the notes. For any wind instrument, the semi-staccato notes in bars 2-3 would be performed with a very gentled tonguing on the notes indicated, such as using a "d" sound with the tongue on the back side of your front teeth, instead of a more pronounced "t" sound for regular staccato marks, as in bar 4.

You can find more information at this website: http://www.abrahamdevar.com/theory-grade-2.html


You've gotten some great answers about the specific piece of music - I'll answer the more general question.

Legato literally means "bound together" - the sounds are connected. Staccato literally means "detached" - there's a space between the sounds. So you can't have a phrase that is both staccato and legato.

But the symbol we use for legato, the curved line over a set of notes, is also called a "phrase mark". And phrases are not necessarily all legato. So you CAN find examples of staccato notes under a phrase mark. The notes under the mark are to be treated as a musical "sentence", and part of that sentence has a bit of a stutter in it.

Some composers will use a dashed phrase mark when it's a phrase, but not entirely a legato phrase. I've heard this began with Bartók, but I haven't done any research to see if that's true. But in my opinion that makes things really clear - and a composer can build a phrase that contains both legato bits and staccato notes while still giving the musician important clues about how to perform it.

  • Are you sure that it began with Bartok(the dashed phrase mark I mean)? Because I have heard of dashed slurs being used back in Mozart's era. That is more than a century between Mozart and Bartok.
    – Caters
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 19:37

I play the French horn and we see this sort of thing all the time in our music. Many of the answers mention phrase markings, and I think that's a fitting term. I've always been told that it meant to play them legato, but tongue them. If you're playing in an ensemble, you might want to check with the other members to see how they are handling it.


This is NOT a phrase mark. You don't use a phrase mark to connect two sixteenths. This is an indication that the notes should be played connected, but still re-articulated.


It is possible to play both legato and staccato at the same time. Legato means "tied together", and as Widor says you want these notes to be "phrased together"; those concepts are obviously closely related and, depending on the interpretation, may be considered one and the same. I'd disagree with Wikipedia — legato doesn't strictly mean that the notes need to be played with no intervening silence, though that is the natural interpretation in its most common usage. Try playing staccato notes smoothly; it's quite a fun exercise.


Yes. Legato is a matter of performance, and staccato is a matter of note articulation. To me, in terms of a guitar, this means I would play short notes, but I would hammer-on to the second note to obey the legato marking.

I'm not sure exactly how this translates to brass, but I imagine a single tonguing, or maybe two distinct tonguings with no gap between the notes.

  • 1
    This doesn't solve the mystery for me. From your WP links: Legato - "in transitioning from note to note, there should be no intervening silence. "; Staccato - "a note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by silence". They seem to be mutually exclusive.
    – slim
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 11:01
  • I got to thinking later that they were something other than legato markings, but it was bedtime. Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 14:47

These notes are to be played legato but slightly detached. Another name for this is portato.


I would guess that it's a string player artifact: with string players, the combination of slur and staccato is indicating detached notes played without changing bowing direction.

Now either this part is doubled by strings (in which case the slur is not interesting for the cornet), or it indicates similar articulation. What would that be? Staccato by just stopping the breath without tongue/lip action?

  • No, this is written for a band with brass, wind, and percussion sections. No strings.
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 12:52

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