In today’s video, we get all cozy with staccatos while applying it to a relatively “etude” (study) – a piece from Bartok’s First Term at the Piano, piece #8.

First Term at the Piano sheet music

Bartok’s First Term Sheet Music

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Bela Bartok – The First Term at the Piano
With Online Video Lessons. Composed by Bela Bartok (1881-1945). Edited by Immanuela Gruenberg. BH Piano. Educational, Instruction, Classical. Softcover Video Online. 28 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M051246908. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48023990).

What is staccato?

When you see these funny dots above or below a note, that’s called a staccato. Basically, it’s the opposite of a slur, or legato – it means to play the note short and choppy, instead of holding it for it’s full value.

A good exercise for practicing staccato is to try it with a C pentascale (C-D-E-F-G). Go slowly, up and down the pentascale, keeping each note light and short (see the video for a demonstration).

Staccato troubleshooting

I’ll show you a couple ways that staccatos tend to go wrong, so hopefully you can avoid these problems at home. One is hammering on the note. Staccato isn’t an attack – it’s a release. Think about “lifting” the note quickly, as opposed to cranking your finger into the note quickly.

Also watch that you aren’t just doing partial staccatos – like maybe some notes end up staccato, but others slur. Every single note with a staccato dot deserves to have its moment in the sun!

No trampolining. There are different ways to play staccato – with your finger, your wrist, and arm, but none of them involving wild arm motions where you leap far above the keys. I generally like to start by teaching finger staccato, since it keeps your hands closest to the keys. To do this, bounce your fingers, but not your entire arm.

First term at the piano – learning points

So let’s take a look at this Bartok piece. This piece is a great way to practice staccatos for a few reasons – one, it’s in a five-finger position, so you don’t have to worry about moving around the keys, and two, there are also slurs, so you have to really pay attention.

The first line is nice because it’s all unison – the LH mimics the RH – but the second line becomes more difficult, since each hand is doing something different.

This is the kind of piece that teaches hand independence, which is a skill you’ll want to develop as you get further along.


See if you can master the staccato/slur contrast in this etude from First Term for the Piano – it’s a common technique, and when you start getting into famous compositions by guys like Bach, you’ll be glad you’ve got that in the bag.

Enjoy! 🙂