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Musical Symbols of Piano Music: Part Two

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Articulation Marks
Articulation marks in piano music.

Some articulation marks, like staccato and marcato, may be placed above or below a note depending on its position on the staff. Other symbols are only written above the staff unless there are two planes of action.

Image © Brandy Kraemer

Articulation Marks

Symbols and lines placed around notes change the way they sound, and create a relationship with surrounding notes. This concept is called “articulation,” and is modified in piano music using articulation marks.

Common symbols affecting articulation include:

  • Staccato
    A small dot placed above or below a note, making it brief in duration (not to be confused with a rhythm dot, which is placed after a note-head).

  • Staccatissimo
    A small wedge or straight comma above a note that creates an exaggerated staccato; a very brief note.

  • Marcato
    Also informally referred to as simply an “accent,” a marcato makes a note slightly more pronounced than surrounding notes.

  • Sforzando
    Makes a note considerably louder than surrounding notes. When a single note is affected, the abbreviation sfz is written.
    * Sforzando is also considered a dynamics command.

  • Tie
    A curved line that joins two or more notes of the same pitch. In piano music, notes connected by a tie are struck as one note, and are held for the total duration of all the tied notes. For example, in the image above, the F is held for three beats.
    * Ties may also be considered tempo marks, since they modify rhythm.

  • Legato or Slur
    Connects two or more different notes. In piano music, the individual notes must be struck, but there should be no audible spaces between them.

  • Fermata
    An indication to hold a note or chord for any desired length. A fermata is also called a hold or a bird’s eye.
    * A fermata may also be considered a tempo mark.

  • Arpeggio
    A squiggly vertical line next to a chord means its notes are not played simultaneously; the notes are hit quickly in order, creating a harp-like effect. Arpeggiated chords usually go from low to high, unless marked by a downward arrow. An arpeggiato is a fast-moving arpeggio.

Continue With Articulation:
►  Learn More Articulation Symbols & Terms


See More Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines    ■Note Lengths     ■Articulation Marks    ■Repeat Signs
The Grand Staff      ■Dotted Notes      ■Dynamics & Volume      ■Segno & Coda Signs
Time Signatures       ■Accidentals        ■Key Signatures      ■Pedal Marks
Tempo Commands     ■Piano Chords         ■Music Rests          ■8va & Octave Commands


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