How to Read Music: Articulations

Articulations are absolute essential ingredients of a musical interpretation. The four most common articulations are Legato, Staccato, Tenuto, and Accent, notated and played as follows…


Legato which means connected and played as with a single breath. It is often, but not always, shown by a curved line showing which notes should be connected.

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Legato is the default articulation unless there are other markings as described below.


Staccato means disconnected and played as with a separate breath. The notes are often, but not always, played in very short and sharp manner. Staccato is written by putting a dot immediately above or below the note head…

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Tenuto, sometime called non-legato, means connected, but each note played as with a separate breath. Tenuto is written by putting a line immediately above or below the note head…

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Accent means to play the marked note with more emphasis (usually louder) than the surrounding notes. Accents are indicated with a “greater than” sign immediately above or below the note head…

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Other than legato, the other articulations can be played to varying degrees — in intensity and duration — to suit the music and the interpretation of the you, the artist. These articulations can even be combined to create more complex effects. Let your artistic ear be your guide to how much connectedness or shortness or sharpness or loudness is “just right.”

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