‘Legato!’ Anyone who has played before in an orchestra, taken a music lessons, observed a music rehearsal or even watched a movie or TV show about music must have heard this term before. Legato is commonly used by music conductors and teachers. But what does it mean? Legato is a singing style or musical technique called articulation that produces continuous motion, fluid flow, between sounds or notes. Each singular note is played to its maximum length or duration and then links and blends directly into whatever note that follow.
Legato comes from the Italian word ‘legare’, which means to tie or bind. In other words, to connect or join together. In a musical sense, legato simply signifies music that is sung or played smoothly, without any space or interruption between the notes.
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Legato notes are often slurred; that is a group of notes that is played together in one down-bow or up-bow in violin. In the music, a slur looks like a curved line over the notes that are all in one bow. Legato is both a technique of playing or singing and a style or interpretation of the music being performed, and it has evolved into the gold standard of musical performance today.
The Legato Technique
Legato has a different association depending on what kind of musician you are. To a wind instrument player, legato means using a steadiness of air flow with very little or minimal interruption from the fingers or mouth. To a string instrument player, legato means smoothly drawing the bow over the string, playing as many notes as possible in one bow and changing the direction of the bow with a flexible motion of the wrist in order not to stop the motion.
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For singers, legato means not only keeping a constant air flow, but also singing long vowels and carrying over the articulation of the final consonants into the beginning of the next word so as to best connect one note to another. It also involves making sure the vowels match. All a’s, o’s, e’s etc. must sound alike. If one of them is slightly different it will cause a change in colour and sound out of place in the flow of the phrase.
On the organ, once you lift your fingers up from the keys the notes stop sounding immediately. Sometime with no sustain pedal to cover the poor legato technique either! So the biggest discrepancy you will find is to probably using a lot more finger-substitutions to keep the note sounding at the same time adjusting your hands to move to the next passage.
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On a piano, a heavy legato technique usually require players sounding the next note before the current note has totally elapsed. Because a piano note can be sounded with only a single finger, it is possible to depress one piano key before you have totally lifted up on the previous key.
Pianists learn how to delay the lifting of finger until the next note is in place in order for a key to be pressed down at all times. This is coordination inclusive from the wrist and proper finger strength. Pianists also employ the pedal to keep the sound sustained. All of these techniques take many years of practice for musicians to perfect.
Effect of Legato
Legato is a musical technique that do convey elegance, fluidity, tranquility, and a sense of graceful motion in music. Legato strings are often use in film music in moments of high romance or in impressionistic wide shots of cities and vistas. In both popular and classical music, legato is regularly used in speedy sections because it is effortless to play faster when notes can slur into one another. Developing this musical technique in its original entity can be a lifelong adventure for even the best musicians, but they pursue it nonetheless because legato sounds are so essential to music.