Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What's the Opposite of Legato

Alright, so we all know about legato (Rochut, Bordogni, etc.)

There doesn't seem to be a catch-all term for articulated playing.

Staccato (well, that seems to be just short)
Marcato (well, that implies weight)
Detache (maybe, but isn't that basically staccato?)

We could be technical and say mezzo-staccato.

What about generic adjectives:
Bouncy? Pointed?

Maybe this alludes to a bigger issue.

Buddy Baker had his articulation numbers to indicate gradations of attack.

I've seen hints of a trend against playing the B-flat 7 chord of the Mozart Requiem in a totally legato style.

Still, wouldn't it be nice if there was one handy word....

Any ideas out there?


John Bailey said...

Great question. I remember Bartok had precise definitions for his articulation marks, but staccato still ranged from half duration to less-than-full duration.

Legato seems to have an academic definition of "connected without other variation". Yet in some lively jazz lines, a player may certainly he playing connected, yet there may be quite a lot of accenting and inflecting of individual notes. Things that seem to beg non-legato marking.

Perhaps legato is along a continuum of duration from "almost zero" to "1" for full duration, then "opposite" may not make sense, since non-legato encompasses a range of durations.

Hoyt said...

In my lessons I speak of legato as "connected" playing, of which the opposite would be "disconnected", although I usually substitute "detached" for this, which is the literal definition of staccato.

Many students incorrectly think staccato means "short", which many times results in notes that consist mostly of articulation with little tone coming after.

Of course, the level of detachment would vary depending on style, etc., but my students generally sound better when thinking "detached", rather than "short".

Just my $.02

Brad Edwards said...

Thanks for your comments. You know, I sometimes think that high school band directors in their zeal to make the band sound "tight", push kids to play notes as short as possible. With that background, many players begin to conceive of staccato as being very secco (to make the band director happy).
That also leads to one of my pet peaves: describing staccato with the word "tut"
Maybe I need to do another blog entry with some play on "Goodbye to King Tut"

Matthew Parunak said...

Yeah, staccato is technically detached or separated, not short. That's one of my biggest annoyances.

Not sure what the opposite of legato would be....its interesting how we all know what it is and how to sing it and it's "normal"...but we don't have a word for it.

Greg said...

Sometimes people confuse staccato with attacks and releases. The difference between staccato and legato playing is in the releases of notes, yet I often hear younger players accent all staccato notes.

I don't like Buddy Baker's system because it oversimplifies the concept of articulation. Buddy Baker's system could work by having a separate number system for attacks and releases.

A short accented note might be a number 7 attack with a number 2 release.

Justin said...

Buddy Baker's "number tonguing" system only applied to what can be more commonly called "sustained air tonguing." It did not apply if you were to "shape the notes with air". Implying that notes were fast enough so they couldn't be shaped by the air stream.

Buddy also used various gradations in between numbers like a 2.5 or 2.3 tongue. By far the most common was a number 2 tongue. This basically means fully sustained air and only enough tongue contact time to create a solid and clear articulation. A note played using a number 3 tongue would be shorter due to more contact time with the tongue, but not manipulation of the air.

Greg said...

I definitely admit that I am not familiar with Buddy's system — that I have only heard of it third hand.

That being said, I just don't like thinking of the attack as determining the length of a note. Maybe it's just me, but I think in reality we shape most notes with the air. In fact, I'd think the air usually accounts for the majority of the shape — even the attack!

Brad Edwards said...

Great comments..
Building on what Greg said: have you ever noticed how, the longer the note is, the more "license to wah" seems to be implied.
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in that "license" but I sure hear it a lot!

Greg said...

I think teachers falsely blame the "wah" on not enough tongue, rather than on an airstream that's too slow coming at the attack. If you can get the air going fast enough quick enough you shouldn't need the tongue at all.

Obviously I am not advocating getting rid of the tongue all together. When playing rapid passages obviously the tongue must predominate the attack. However, I think we can create a more beautiful orchestral attack by quickly sending a surge of fast air and using a lot less tongue than most of us are used to doing.

I heard Glenn Dodson discuss attacks as an air-to-tongue ratio. He claimed that most players, especially jazz/commercial types, tend to over-tongue their attacks. It gives a very harsh attack with not enough sustain. It also leads to a lot more chipped notes.