Robert Estrin - piano expert

Finger Staccato Technique on the Piano

Advice for piano players

In this video, Robert illuminates you on the finger staccato technique, which is useful to know for all pianists.

Released on March 24, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question, and I'm going to read this one to you because it's a little bit complicated, and it has some interesting ramifications for your piano playing. "Can you comment on finger staccato and how this interacts with the wrists and staying closer to the keys as speed increases? I'm referring to the technique of flexing the fingers toward a more closed fist with each staccato note. The action requires suddenly scratching the keys or sliding the finger pads on the key tops. This is described as feeling like pulling the notes from the keys. I found this very valuable, but I seek more wisdom on integrating this with other techniques of speed and lightness."

This is a very interesting question, and I get a lot of people asking about this idea of rubbing the keys. Indeed, there is something referred to as finger staccato. Now, I've talked a great deal about staccato and how it's performed from the wrist, and indeed, most of the time staccato is performed from the wrist. The wrists are fundamental in playing staccatos on the piano, but sometimes there is an articulation that you want to achieve to get space between the notes and something that's too fast for the wrists to accomplish. For example, in the Gigue, the last movement of Bach's French Suite in G major, his fifth French Suite, you can play legato, but playing with a finger staccato creates almost a harpsichord-like tonality of the punctuation of each note. If you played it slurred, it would sound like this.

Play it with a finger staccato and you get this sound. It almost sounds faster, even playing at the same tempo, because of the punctuation of each note. So, is this being done by sliding on the keys? I don't recommend sliding technique on keys for a variety of reasons. First of all, key tops on different pianos are dramatically different from one another. On most pianos you have today composite plastic key tops. Some pianos have ivory. Right away, ivory is a porous material that has a little bit more friction than plastic key tops. Add to that the dryness or the moisture on your fingertips.

Dry fingers can really slide like crazy on plastic key tops. Sweaty fingers can slide a lot on plasticky tops. Dryer fingers might do a little bit better on ivory keys, but the point is that you have different levels of friction on different key tops. So, trying to rely upon rubbing the keys, I don't think is a reliable technique. So, how do you achieve finger staccato? It's staying very close to the keys and just getting used to playing with spaces between the notes, and you can practice this in your scales. You try practicing at a slower tempo doing progressive metronome speeds, keeping it very light. Avoid wrists. The wrists can't go fast enough. Imagine trying to play... trying to play that from the wrist. There's no way you could play fast enough.

So, sometimes a finger staccato is very much called for. I will also mention that, as a practice technique, practicing with staccato fingers is a phenomenal way of really training your hand to play fast passagework because each note is articulated, because one of the things of getting clean finger work, whether it's scales, arpeggios, or other types of passagework, is the release of notes. You want to have note lengths that are uniform throughout, and the only way to achieve that is by playing with spaces between the notes. Starting playing all the notes very short from the fingers makes the maximum space between notes, which later you can then control, so you can have different levels of length of space between notes. That's a mouthful, but think about it. Practicing scales, we think of practicing scales as a one-size-fits-all, just... et cetera, et cetera, but why not practice it detached or semi-detached.

There are many different ways because, ultimately, what makes music sound even, is not just the attack of the notes, but the release and having even durations of notes and even spaces between the notes, which can only be achieved by the fingers. By practicing with a staccato finger, it's an extreme difference from legato playing. And then you can try to fill in all the touches between separate notes on staccato fingers and legato, so you can get the kind of sound you're after in your playing. So, that was a very interesting question, maybe not the answer you expected. I hope this is interesting for you and valuable for your piano playing, as well as your practice. Practicing a piece, by the way, that has a lot of finger work, with all staccato fingers, is a heck of a workout for you, and it's a great way to strengthen your piano playing.

Thanks again for joining me. I'm Robert Estrin, here at, your online piano resource, going into great depth and special videos for my Patreon supporters. Thanks so much for joining me. We'll see you next time.
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