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A Domenico Scarlatti Sonata that enables Finger and Forearm Staccato

It’s been decades since my beloved N.Y.C. piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich bestowed upon me the gift of Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas. And at the time, (while I was a student at the New York City H.S. of Performing Arts) I had no idea that those she had selected were permeated with the basics of technique bonded to musical expression.

lillianfreundlich  lil2

Yet, I have no specific recollection of my mentor having isolated finger staccato from that generated by the forearm. Similarly, wrist staccato was even more foreign to her musical vocabulary. (Nonetheless Mrs. Freundlich always checked for supple wrists, and for relaxingly suspended arms without a trace of tension)

Basically, Lillian Freundlich’s springboard was the singing tone, and how to phrase by building smaller measures to larger ones using a free fall relaxed arm and a progressive note-grouping approach. She also doted on the dotted 8th/16th rhythm to smooth out bumpy lines.

As years have passed, and more than one teacher has influenced me during an extended musical journey in and out of the Conservatory, I’ve come to the conclusion that identifying and isolating various types of staccato is part of the enriched piano learning cosmos–that such a physical/musical nexus is intrinsic to growing artistry.

Excuse my wordy introduction, but perhaps it’s a necessary prelude to a tutorial I prepared right after having resurrected Scarlatti Sonata in G, K. 14, L. 387 as part of my spiritual homecoming.

Scarlatti Sonata in G  p. 1

Having observed reams of detached notes in forte and piano dynamic ranges permeating the score, I realized how fortunate I was to have spent inordinate time with my adult students cultivating various kinds of staccato via scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths. It clearly amounted to a common journey of infinite value!

Finally, to have reviewed a Baroque era composition that was exemplary of the Keyboard School of Virtuosity fathered by Domenico Scarlatti, afforded an opportunity to re-explore staccato playing in all its expressive facets.

Play Through:


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A “cool” dip into Quicktime for wrist, finger, and forearm staccato practice

Amazing how 90-degree temperatures in the East Bay can wreak havoc over Face Time transmissions. It nearly made Online mentoring come to a grinding halt yesterday! except that a Quick Time saving grace Lesson Preserver came to the rescue!


In my Scotland travels, I’m accustomed to subbing in the iPhone for the iMac because of two-way computer Online Face Time/Skype irregularities, so from week to week, I’d been giving my back-up camcorder a 60-minute workout, snatching the whole lesson for a same day uploaded re-cap. But once I realized Quick Time on the Big Mac could be enlisted to simultaneously record selected lesson segments while glaring at the cell image of a Yamaha grand, I had the best of both worlds: Live iPhone transmission and a selective mouse clicked re-run in progress.

Here’s the set up: Call it an EMT piano teaching equivalent.

Naturally, the mechanics of Quicktime allow focus on well-measured lesson goals. For example, yesterday, I demonstrated a variety of Staccato approaches in scale and arpeggio framings using the overhead keyboard web cam view. (wrist, forearm, finger driven detached notes on display)

And once the day played out with cooler evening temps draping the East Bay, I had sufficiently “warmed up” my ‘finger’ staccato to demonstrate a fast 32nd-note romp.

In summary, being flexible and resourceful in this Online universe is a must to keep lessons up and running despite occasional annoying transmission problems.

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Piano Technique: Remediating peak octave scale paralysis (Staccato)

Choking up is probably the best description of what often happens to final scale octaves and their turnaround. Students get anxious at the terminus, and tend to crowd notes as if they’re racing to the finish line, when in fact, they’re only half way through. So psychologically, it’s best if the peak octave is viewed as an expansion or broadening of the scale, with lots of natural, relaxed breathing to support it. (In addition, an extra infusion of energy is needed on the very top scale note to bring it down with a feeling a smoothness and paced note spacing.)

In Staccato, players become even more anxious because they feel a sense of “disconnection” to the notes when they can otherwise apply the same RELAXED framing to the peak as they did in LEGATO.


How to Practice

There are many ways to remediate the final octave spill and turnaround (in staccato) which I include in two separate videos. One of these contains a Lesson segment with an adult student who inspired my deeper thought about the whole last octave landscape.

Lesson in Progress

Ways to Remediate last octave choking

Big points:

Relaxed breathing last octave approach.
Spurt of energy on turnaround note; cupped hands for precision forearm staccato–ample arm weight should support the forearm staccato.

Lift arm weight (perhaps HALF weight) for forearm generated soft staccato.

GOOD consistent framing rhythm in all practicing, whether spot practicing last octave or rendering the whole scale.

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Piano Technique: Practicing 4 varieties of detached notes

This evening Big Mike, whose hands are impressively large, finessed various types of staccato. He proved that elasticity is more influential than finger length (and related) in producing clearly articulated notes in diverse colors.

We started with a B minor (Natural form scale) enlisting a forearm FORTE staccato, then continued to a soft range, still forearm generated articulation– A wrist staccato followed that concluded with a rendering in tenuto (press lift without snappy or crisp key releases) Tenuto is usually notated with horizontal lines, and dots under them.

Mike scaled new heights at his lesson and received a deserving shower of praise!, piano lessons by web cam,

Piano Technique: Psychological and physical approaches to staccato (Video)

Today’s romp in F# minor (melodic form) brought new awakenings in the universe of bouncy staccato through scales and arpeggios–(in big Forte projection, followed by a soft, piano range rendering)

Within the psychological universe where mental images abound, catchwords like “THINKING UP” through rapid fire 32nds, kept the notes percolating without falling down FLAT with IMPACT.

The deterrent to crashing down, was the suggestion to LIFT UP. (with CRISP releases)

In the physical cosmos, using CUPPED hands, with a slightly lowered wrist, delivered a FOREARM-driven staccato packed with punch, but NOT the kind landing between the eyes. The Notes sprang out and UP (once again) with an appealing energy that seemed to have a contagious thread from start to finish–One note bounced into the another.

The forearm generated staccato, could just as easily have been lowered in volume by channeling less arm weight, though still preserving CONSISTENCY across the scale terrain. (Cupped hands and lowered wrists remained old standbys)

With a wrist-driven staccato, notes were STYLED and GROUPED during the scale journey in wavy, snipped forms.

And once off to a fancy-free ARPEGGIO space, the romp consisted ofrolling triplets in legato (smooth and connected) as the CONTOURED model for staccato. In TRIPLET framing, the hands were thrown gracefully forward with GROUPED wrist ROLLS, while fingers became lengthened. (Cups were tossed)

The character of TRIPLETS had considerably altered the landscape requiring supple wrist motions in all articulations whether legato or staccato.

So not only having muscle memory was useful for a player, but snatching mental cues to support animated, ebullient energy could have a lasting effect on staccato playing in many contexts.

Below: A Piano Lesson by Skype to London,

Piano Technique: Staying CONNECTED while playing staccato

I’ve picked the B Major Scale with 5 sharps distributed through double and triple black note sequence, to demonstrate wrist, forearm, and finger staccato. In these forays through detached notes, I emphasize how to stay “in touch” and not lose a basic connection to threads of notes.

Many ingredients contribute to the creation of a smooth, secure, and relaxed staccato. For one thing, the player cannot become panic-stricken at the thought of lifting off the keys. In reality, a relaxed and well-shaped LEGATO (where notes are connected) can be SNIPPED into a beautiful STACCATO–that is, if the legato has been well prepared through a series of baby steps.

In B Major, blocking out “chunks” of double and triple black notes with thumbs meeting in between is a good preliminary–with the thumbs nicely swiveling under the ebony tunnels without tension. It might be a good idea, therefore, to pivot toward the black note CLUSTERS or CHUNKS with a wrist forward motion. As far as the thumbs are concerned I think “LIGHT” so they don’t crash or interrupt the flow of a well spun-out scale in Legato.

SNIPPING out the legato scale, that should have undulating wrists on its journey through three octaves in TRIPLET 8THS, will produce a satisfying WRIST staccato.

For the Forearm generated staccato, I think more VERTICALLY in my approach to the keys, but I still stay CLOSE to them. If I want a big FORTE sound, I think heavier arms.(Note that my wrists are never locked even with forearm staccato) There’s always a spongy give to the wrists so they keep their flexibility.

For finger staccato, I lighten my arms, and think tips of fingers, knowing my fuel supply always comes down my arms while my wrists stay supple.

But above all, knowing in advance what one wants to hear before playing is intrinsic to a beautiful staccato outcome. In so many words, the musical merges with the physical in all well-shaped playing, regardless of articulation.

The video below models the staccato forms I’ve described above.

Shirley Smith Kirsten

Piano Technique: A styled staccato with a dipping wrist

I find that adding supple wrist dips to staccato within any dynamic range helps to style and shape lines, phrases, etc.

Here’s it’s first executed within a scale framework. A cat cameo appearance is the opener.

Now a sample of shaped staccato in the soft range, played after a nicely contoured legato. (just snip it out) This is preceded by a direct forearm staccato example.

Basically, staccato can be expressed in many shapes and forms depending upon what the music dictates.