How to Play “Portato” on Piano

In today’s video, we discuss the portato – which is sort of like legato, sort of like staccato, and sort of rhymes with potato. And just for reference’s sake, it’s pronounced “por-TAH-to”.

What is portato?

Portato simply looks like a combination of a slur and staccato notes happening all at once. And how to play it? Well, it’s sort of like a half-way point between these two techniques.

A slur means to play the notes smoothly, or connected – and staccato means to do the opposite – to play choppy.

The word portato translates into ‘carried’ or ‘ported’, so it can be thought of as an extended staccato. I’ve heard it described as non-legato, or sticky staccato as well. The point of portato is to give the phrase a pulsing sound – whereas staccato might make it sound light and choppy, and the slur might make it sound smooth and graceful.

Portato and the damper pedal

Portato has an excellent effect when you’re using the damper pedal. The pedal carries the tone, but the attack and release of the portato notes makes a pulsing sound. It’s just one of many different touches and techniques composers might employ in their pieces. Play around with it!

When to play portato

Playing in this manner is a stylistic choice, and doesn’t necessarily need to be indicated in the score. For example, in classical music, slurs and staccatos are often clearly marked – but any unmarked notes generally sound great played with portato effect.

This technique may also be referred to as mezzo-staccato, or “medium staccato”.

In the next video we’ll learn a piece that uses portato, so stay tuned for that.

xo,
Allysia

 

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.