Is there a term for the "default" articulation that is played when no articulation symbols are present? When the note is played for nearly its full duration value, but with just a tiny rest to separate it from the next note.

  • The middle is not notated - same for dynamic as discussed in this question -, therefore the reason to have a name for it is diminished.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 16:19
  • In the pipe organ world this is called "ordinary touch." Basically non-legato, neither legato or notably detached, just a slight articulation between notes, such as you would get from sliding one finger from one key to the next on a mechanical (tracker) action organ. That sound is very different from the default articulation on piano and even more different from what would be standard for a singer or clarinettist. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 20:21
  • In most cases, "no special notation" means "do what you would normally do" for music like this. Composers who wrote a lot for a regular ensemble of players tended not to notate minute details that they knew their band would do automatically (Bach, Haydn, Ellington/Strayhorn). Notation is usually in response to a default, so "piano" does not mean "soft" but "softer than you'd think"; "staccato" means "I know you want to connect this, but don't". Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 20:23

4 Answers 4


'Normal' playing is somewhat like speaking normally. Notes flow into each other - there doesn't need to be even that tiny rest you mention. Most times, notes can be given their full duration value, and if a writer wanted something different, he would write shorter notes and rests, or put staccato marks. Imagine a trumpet or sax player not joining up notes in a phrase? Sometimes it's necessary, due to limitations of the instrument or large jumps in pitch, but generally, legato is the default way to play.

  • Well that depends heavily on style. In the eighteenth century Viennese tradition there is a lot of talk about “regular touch” which is still slightly separated (of course the absence of articulation markings does not mean you shouldn’t play any - many are implicit).
    – 11684
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 10:59
  • @11684 - taking all of music, not one specific genre, the answer is legato. The 'slightly separated' works for 18C Viennese, but that's not representative of much music.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 11:14
  • Well that’s not the only counter-example. I don’t claim non-legato is “the default”, I’m saying neither is legato, considering the amount of music before 1800 is larger than the amount of music after. Besides, the OP clearly describes non-legato; we can argue all we want about whether that’s “the default” or not, that’s what they want to know the name of.
    – 11684
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 11:21
  • @11684 - what confuses me is that the OP mentions 'when no articulation symbols are present' which covers an awful lot of written music. OP seems of the opinion that default = detached, with no reference to any period. Ambiguous! +1 for your answer, which could be the one the OP is searching for...
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 11:27
  • Good point, after re-reading it is more ambiguous than I thought.
    – 11684
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 11:28

While Tim is correct that many players simply play legato by default, that is clearly not what you’re describing.

What you’re describing would simply be called non-legato (meaning not short but also not slurred).

What you describe would be the default in 18th century German/Austrian repertoire, at which time it was called “regular touch”. Note that the absence of articulation markings does not mean you have to constantly play regular tough; articulation was left up to the performer to a large extent.

For most nineteenth century London repertoire for example, I would say legato is the default.

In the twentieth century composers tend to be more explicit.

In conclusion, what you describe is not “the” default but would be called non-legato.

  • This answer is correct for the 'detached' style of playing described by the OP. However, the question itself is ambiguous. Default generally speaking is legato, and the style described is not 'default' - except to that particular style!
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 11:18
  • As a (counter)example, string instruments use detache as a default, and the sheer absence of any articulation mark does not imply legato. Rather, the musical context dictate whether the detache is more of legato, or more of staccato.
    – Divide1918
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 10:19

Would be different for each instrument group, no? For wind instruments, for example, "default" would mean to tongue the note. Legato notes would be slurred and have a slur marking. Without that slur, the default would be to tongue the note.

No articulation mark, the default, for strings would mean changing the bow direction between notes. Notes with slurred articulation would mean to bow in one direction for the duration of the slur.


Not really. Partly because absence of any special instruction doesn't mean 'no accent, slightly detached...'. It means 'use your musical good sense'.

Today's musicians, constructing music on a computer, may have to be more specific! And it's true that a notation-based sequencer such as Sibelius or Finale treats 'no special instructions' by default as 'full length but with a slight gap'. I've never seen this given a special name though.

  • “use your musical good sense” seems like good advice generally! Here, one implication is that the default articulation isn't necessarily the same for all notes: it may depend on the phrasing, the shape of the line, the rhythm of it, how you analyse it, and on the style in which you're playing it. Very few pieces have every note played the same way!
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 23:45

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