|Lesson 10. Articulations
1. To learn about attack and release.
2. To learn how to play legato.
3. To learn how to play staccato.
4. To learn how to play staccatissimo.
5. To learn about accents.
6. To learn how to play tenuto.
7. To learn how to play marcato.
8. To learn how to play martellato.
9. To learn about articulation combinations.
10. To learn about the incomplete measure.
11. To learn about upbeats and downbeats.
12. To continue with ear training exercises.
13. To continue with rhythm reading exercises.
14. To continue with technique exercises.
15. To continue with sight reading exercises.
16. To learn to play two new songs.
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Directions: Read the following lesson carefully. You must know all of the content to pass your lesson examination.
ATTACK AND RELEASE
In lesson 7 you learned how to play with a normal articulation. In this lesson you will learn more about what articulation means and how to play using a variety of articulations. When we speak of articulation in music, we are referring to the "attack" and "release" of each note. By changing the attack and/or release of a note, we can change how a note sounds in relation to the notes before and after it, i.e. how we "articulate" the music.
The way in which we press a key on the piano is called the attack. It determines the way the beginning of a note sounds. For example, some notes may have a harsher attack than others, thus creating an emphasis on those particular notes.
The release (or end) of a note can be just as important as the attack. By changing when we release each note, we are affecting the amount of time in-between the notes. More or less time in-between the notes changes the way the sound connects from one note to the next.
Articulation marks are the symbols placed above or below the notes that indicate to the performer how to attack the note and when to release the note. Let's go over the most common articulations now.
Legato is an Italian word meaning "connected". It is indicated by a curved line called a "slur" which is placed over or under the note heads. It may also be indicated with just the word "legato".
In order to understand how to correctly play legato, let's first compare playing legato with a normal attack. Remember, that with a normal attack the fingers move like pistons - as one finger is coming up, the next finger is coming down, thus creating a small period of silence in-between each note. With legato playing, there is no silence in-between the notes being played. The split second that one finger is starting to come up off the keys, the next finger is beginning to play the next note, thus making the transition from note to note seamless. Also, the first note, of a group of slurred notes, is played with a very slight emphasis. In the video below you will see a group of notes played with a normal articulation and then with a legato articulation.
Here is another example, this time with multiple slurs in a row. Notice how the first note of each slur is played with a slightly emphasized attack. The last note is released slightly early so that a small period of silence is created in-between the end of the slur and the start of the next slur.
Staccato is an Italian word meaning "detached". It is indicated by a single dot placed over or under the note head. Do not confuse this with the dotted half note which has the dot placed on the right side.
Playing staccato is the opposite of playing legato. To correctly play staccato, press the key and quickly release. It is very important to understand that playing staccato does not affect the rhythm of the music. Because of the quick release, there will be a small period of time before the next note is played. Do not play the next note just because you have released the previous note early. You need to wait the full value of the note before moving on. How quickly you release the key is really up to the performer. There is a wide range of staccato playing. Typically you should release about half way through the note.
There is another type of staccato called "staccatissimo" which means "very staccato". It is indicated with a wedge above or below the note head. Release these notes even earlier than you would with staccato (about one fourth of the way through the note).
An accent marks affect both the attack of the note and also the release of the note. There are three types of accents. Let's go over each one in detail.
The tenuto mark is a horizontal line placed over (or under) the note head. It is the smallest of the three accents and is sustained for almost the entire length of the note, with only a very short period of silence before playing the next note.
Marcato (also, referred to as the "accent mark") is what people typically think of when they hear the word "accent" in music. It is indicated by a horizontal wedge placed above or below the notes. To play marcato, use a medium emphasis and sustain for approximately two-thirds of the note's full value.
Martellato is from the Italian meaning "hammered". It is indicated by a vertical wedge placed above or below the notes. This accent has the strongest emphasis and should be played with a hammering effect. Release the note approximately one half of the way through the value of the note being played.
With all articulations, the exact amount of emphasis and exact length of each note will be decided by the performer and the piece he is playing. These are just standard guidelines to help you understand and learn how to play with different articulations.
It is important to understand that articulations dealing with emphasis (such as accents) do not take the place of dynamics. You will still follow all of the dynamic markings in the music. The accents will simply be executed relative to whatever dynamic level you are playing at that moment in the piece. For example, a section of a song with marcato signs that is marked "forte" will be played louder then another section with marcato signs marked "mezzo forte".
Sometimes you will encounter combinations of articulations. Here is an example of a staccato/marcato combination.
In the above example, the marcato sign indicates that the note is to be played with a medium emphasis, while the staccato sign indicates that the note should be held for a shorter period of time than a normal marcato would.
THE INCOMPLETE MEASURE
One of the songs that you will be playing in this lesson looks like it has missing beats in the first measure. We call this the incomplete measure or "pick up" measure. As you will see in a moment, the beats are not really missing, they are just located somewhere else. In the example below, the music is written in 3/4 time but the first measure only contains one beat. Where are the other two beats? Typically, they can be found in the last measure of the song (or in this case the last measure of the line).
As you learned in Music Theory I, the first beat of each (full) measure is slightly stronger than the others. We call this beat the "downbeat". In the example above, the first note in the second measure is the downbeat. The first note in the first measure is not the downbeat. It is actually the "upbeat" preceding the second measure. Upbeats are the weak beats. To play the music above correctly, imagine two quarter rests happening before the first note of the piece is played. You would count "1", "2", and then begin playing on "3". Since beat 1 (the downbeat) is stronger than beats 2 and 3 (the upbeats), and since the piece begins on beat 3, do not emphasize it as if it were the beginning of the measure. It is actually beat 3 of the measure even though it looks as if it were beat 1. Emphasizing the wrong beats will make the piece sound like it is in a different meter.
Why are they called upbeats and downbeats? You may have seen a conductor waving his baton up and down to lead an orchestra or group of musicians. The motion upwards is not as powerful as the motion downwards, and so the downward motion always marks the beginning of each new measure (or strongest beats) in the music - thus the names upbeat and downbeat.
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Directions: Complete the following exercises before moving on to the next section.
Musicianship Exercises (in Smart Music)
Lesson Songs (in SmartMusic)
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Directions: The following questions help you to memorize the most important points of this lesson. Commit them perfectly to memory and have a parent or praeceptor quiz you to test your mastery before taking your lesson exam.
60. What is articulation?
Articulation is how a note sounds in relation to the notes before and after it, and is determined by the attack and release of the notes.
61. What is the attack?
The attack is the way in which a finger presses the keys.
62. What is the release?
The release is the point at which a finger leaves the keys.
63. What does the attack determine?
The attack determines how much emphasis is placed on the beginning of each note.
64. What does the release determine?
The release determines how the sounds of the notes are connected to one other by how much time is left in-between each note.
65. What is legato?
Legato is an Italian word meaning "connected".
66. How do you play using a legato articulation?
To play legato, place a slight emphasis on the first slurred note and connect each subsequent note so that there are no periods of silence in-between them.
67. What is a slur?
A slur is a curved line placed over or under the note heads indicating that the performer is to play legato.
68. What is staccato?
Staccato is an Italian word meaning "detached".
69. How do you play using a staccato articulation?
To play staccato, release the note approximately 1/2 of the way through its full value.
70. What is staccatissimo?
Staccatissimo is "very" staccato.
71. How do you play using a staccatissimo articulation?
To play staccatissimo, release the note approximately 1/4 of the way through its full value.
72. What is an accent mark?
An accent mark is the symbol placed above or below the notes that affects both the attack and release of the note.
73. What is tenuto sign?
A tenuto sign is the horizontal line placed over or under the notes indicating that the performer is to play using a tenuto articulation.
74. How do you play using a tenuto articulation?
To play tenuto, attack using a small emphasis and release the note just before reaching its full value.
75. What is a marcato sign?
A marcato sign is the horizontal wedge placed over or under the notes indicating that the performer is to play using a marcato articulation.
76. How do you play using a marcato articulation?
To play marcato, attack using a medium emphasis and release the note approximately 2/3 of the way through its full value.
77. What is a martellato sign?
A martellato sign is the vertical wedge placed over or under the notes indicating that the performer is to play using a martellato articulation.
78. What does martellato mean?
Martellato is from the Italian meaning "hammered".
79. How do you play using a martellato articulation?
To play martellato, attack using a large emphasis and release the note approximately 1/2 of the way through its full value.
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