articulation (music)


Articulation is a fundamental musical parameter that determines how a single
note Note, notes, or NOTE may refer to: Music and entertainment * Musical note In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. In English usage a note is also the sound itself. Notes can represent the Pitch (music), pitch and Duration (music), ...
or other discrete event is sounded. Articulations primarily structure an event's start and end, determining the length of its sound and the shape of its attack and decay. They can also modify an event's
timbre In music, timbre ( ), also known as tone color or tone quality (from ), is the perceived sound quality of a , sound or . Timbre distinguishes different types of sound production, such as choir voices and musical instruments. It also enables li ...

dynamics Dynamics (from Greek language, Greek δυναμικός ''dynamikos'' "powerful", from δύναμις ''dynamis'' "power (disambiguation), power") or dynamic may refer to: Physics and engineering * Dynamics (mechanics) ** Aerodynamics, the study o ...
, and
pitch Pitch may refer to: Acoustic frequency * Pitch (music), the perceived frequency of sound including "definite pitch" and "indefinite pitch" ** Absolute pitch or "perfect pitch" ** Pitch class, a set of all pitches that are a whole number of octaves ...
. Musical articulation is analogous to the articulation of speech, and during the
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periods it was taught by comparison to
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Western music
Western music
has a set of traditional articulations that were standardized in the
19th Century The 19th (nineteenth) century began on January 1, 1801 (), and ended on December 31, 1900 (). The 19th century was the ninth century of the . The 19th century saw much social change; was , and the and s (which also overlap with the and centu ...

19th Century
and remain widely used. Composers are not limited to these, however, and may invent new articulations as a piece requires. When writing
electronic Electronic may refer to: *Electronics Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. It uses active devices to control electron flow b ...
computer music Computer music is the application of computing technology Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of ...
, composers can design articulations from the ground up. In addition to the following instructions given by composers, performers choose how to articulate the events of a
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independently, in accordance with their interpretation of it. Until the
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17th Century
, it was rare to mark articulations in a score, and even during the Baroque period they were uncommon apart from ornaments, leaving them up to the performer and the standards of the time. Even during the Classical period, the interpretation of articulation marks varied far more widely than it does today. Articulations have now become more tightly standardized, but performers still must consider the fashions of their time, methods of playing that were current at the time the piece they are performing was written, the context of their performance, the style of the music, and their own taste and analysis when deciding how to articulate a score's events.

Types of articulations

There are many types of articulation, each with a different effect on how the note is played. In
music notation Music is the The arts, art of arranging sounds in time through the Elements of music, elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the cultural universal, universal cultural aspects of all human societies. General definitions ...

music notation
articulation marks include the
slur Slur may refer to: * Slur (music), a symbol in Western musical notation indicating notes to be played smoothly * Pejorative, a term with negative connotations used to disparage someone * Relaxed pronunciation, unclear or abnormal enunciation {{dis ...
, Phrase (music theory), phrase mark, staccato, staccatissimo, Accent (music), accent, Dynamics (music)#Sudden changes and accented notes, sforzando, Dynamics (music)#Sudden changes and accented notes, rinforzando, and legato. A different symbol, placed above or below the note (depending on its position on the staff), represents each articulation. The third movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Beethoven), Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) exemplifies the effective use of contrast between staccato and legato within the same passage of music: Varying the articulation of a theme can play a role in musical development. For example, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture opens with a phrase played legato: This idea later re-emerges played staccato as Mendelssohn develops it across the orchestral texture (music), texture:


Brass and woodwind instruments

Woodwind and Brass instrument, brass instruments generally produce articulations by tonguing, the use of the tongue to break the airflow into the instrument. Certain palate cues can help student musicians master articulations. For example, the syllable "dah" demonstrates one placement of the tongue to articulate notes. In most cases, using the near tip of the tongue, is the best way of articulation. However, different articulation markings require different tongue placement. Smooth, connected passages may require an articulation more reminiscent of the syllable "la," while heavy, sharp notes may be attacked with an articulation similar to "tah." Furthermore, the implementation of double-tonguing may be required when many articulations are required in rapid succession. Double-tonguing can be simulated by repeating the syllables "dig" and "guh" in rapid succession. Other syllables for double tonguing are "tuh" and "kuh," "tih" and "kuh," and any other combination of syllables that utilize the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth and then the back of the tongue against the back of the mouth. Double-tonguing is an articulation primarily used by brass players, but the use of double-tonguing by woodwind players is becoming more common. A third, rare form of articulation for wind players is "doodle tonguing." The name of this articulation comes from the sound, doodle, one would make if she were to sound her voice while performing the articulation. Doodle-tonguing is achieved by moving the tip of the tongue up and down quickly to block the air stream momentarily on the way up, and again on the way down.

String Instruments

Stringed instruments use different techniques such as Bow (music), bowing, Guitar picking, picking, or a technique by plucking the strings with the hand. This technique is called pizzicato. String instruments use these methods to achieve different articulations, varying the speed, pressure, and angle of the bow or pick. Musicians use articulation to create a link between notes, such as legato. Legato is formed by letting the string vibrate without stopping or muting it so the note slurs with the consecutive ones. Staccato is another very common musical articulation found in music. This action is caused by the player plucking, bowing, or picking the note and immediately muting the note so it is shorter than normal. Think of these two as opposites. Duration is indeed the most striking feature of articulation but is not its only one. Articulation describes the forming of a tone in all its facets. This also includes loudness, timbre, intonation, and envelope characteristics. A note is accented by a sort of triangle without its base. A musician using a string instrument would accent a note by playing the string harder and with more attack creating a louder sound.

Compound articulations

Occasionally, articulations can be combined to create stylistically or technically correct sounds. For example, when staccato marks are combined with a slur, the result is portato, also known as articulated legato. Tenuto markings under a slur are called (for bowed strings) hook bows. This name is also less commonly applied to staccato or martellato (martelé) markings.


''Apagados'' (from the Spanish verb ''apagar'', "to mute") refers to notes that are played dampened or "muted," without sustain. The term is written above or below the notes with a dotted or dashed line drawn to the end of the group of notes that are to be played dampened. The technique is chiefly written for bowed or plucked instruments. Modernists refer to the 'apogado' (slightly different spelling) as "palm mute." On the guitar, the musician dampens the strings with the palm of the hand and plucks with the thumb. Strictly speaking, the term dampened is correct for this effect in music; since to mute means to silence. Illustration of the apagados may be found in the work of composer for Spanish guitar, Gerardo de Altona. See:

See also

* List of musical symbols#Articulation marks, List of musical symbols: Articulation Marks * Prosody (music) * Tonguing



* * * *


* Cooper, Helen (1985). ''Basic Guide to How to Read Music''. .

External links

GNU Lilypond Notation Software's List of Articulation Symbols
{{Musical technique Articulations,