Last Updated August 16, 2019

Staccato is Italian for ‘detached’. When we apply this to musical notes, we literally aim to make the notes sound separate from notes played around it. We do this by not allowing the note to sustain or ring. We play the note, and then we immediately deaden the note and stop it ringing.

When you asked to play something staccato it will look something like this:

The thing we are looking for that tells us to play staccato are those little black dots in the music notation. Those are the staccato dots.

So how do we actually play staccato?

When we strike a note or chord we need to deaden the notes before we move on to the next thing we’re supposed to play. To do this we need to lift our finger from the fret board so that we aren’t pressing on any frets. But at the same time keep contact with the strings.

So we need to hit the notes, then lift our fingers off those frets but still maintain contact with the strings.

When playing single notes this can be done easily by simply lifting the finger you used to fret that note. But when playing chords like in the above example it may be helpfully to use more fingers to dampen the strings. In the above example we would play the A major chord in the 1st bar using our 1st finger. So when we dampen the strings afterwards, we can use all four fingers to really kill the chord off.

So we play that chord as normal and then we can take all four fingers and just lay them across the strings to deaden them.

In the above example the second bar uses an A power chord played with distortion. When using a lot of distortion it’s common to play staccato when you want to give the chords some extra impact or definition.

Listen to the above example

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When we play with distortion its important to really dampen the strings well. Since the distortion is going to amplify any rogue noises that may sneak out. We really need to make sure we deaden those strings good. To do this, the best method is to use all four fingers laid across all six strings. It may take some practice to jump quickly from doing this and playing the next chord or note.

Here is an example using single notes. Both bars play the same thing, but bar two uses staccato on all the notes.

Listen to the example and you should be able to clearly hear the difference when using staccato.

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The opposite of staccato would be legato where we aim to make the notes flow into one another. Sometimes you may also be asked to let notes ring, which can be viewed as opposite to staccato.

If you come across this, it will look something like this.

We’re literally told to let the notes ring for the length of that dashed line. You can think of this as the opposite of staccato. So we’ll hold the notes down and let them ring for as long as we’re told to do so. In the above example we play a G major chord arpeggio, but since we’re told to let it ring, we’re going to hold that chord down all the way through and let all the notes sustain.

Listen to how that sounds.

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Staccato is very common in many types of music and well worth learning to play cleanly.

Key points to remember!
  • Staccato is when notes sound seperate and cut off.
  • We play this on guitar by not allowing the notes to ring.
  • When applying staccato to chords, use as many fingers as possible to mute the chord.