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Non-legato Scales

piano technique

Question: Hello,

Have you any tips on developing a non-legato touch when playing, for example, Mozart’s C major Sonata K. 545? I can only manage a very uneven and rather slow staccato.

I am 59 years old. Is it possible to make further progress at my age?

– Richard (France)

Albert’s reply: It’s critical to know all piano scales equally well. Most often, whenever a student has difficulty with a particular scale in a given piece, I find that this difficulty extends to all scales. We generally assume that the problem is “local,” that the difficulty need only be overcome in a particular piece or passage thereof. Yet the surest way to overcome a technical difficulty is to conquer it universally so that it is no longer a problem, regardless of the given musical context.

Hence the necessity of practicing all scales. You need to know them all so fluently that you can play any of them at will, immediately and with any desired touch, from staccatissimo to legatissimo and anything in between.

Evenness is critical when practicing scales, and you must be patient. Any attempt to play faster than your current ability will undo your good work thus far. Your very uneven scales in the Mozart sonata are a clear indication that you are trying to play them too fast right now.

Instead, start by downloading the major scales for piano and practicing them with a metronome set to a slow speed – slower than you think you should practice them. Practice hands separately, particularly at first, since otherwise unevenness in one hand will almost certainly be obscured by the other hand. Do not increase the speed of the metronome during your practice session, as most students do. Instead, perfect your articulation at the slower speed and save the next-faster speed for the next day or two, or even a whole week or two. You should be absolutely confident and totally in control before attempting a faster speed.

In scales in general, staccato should be achieved from the fingers alone rather than from the wrist. Wrist staccato is used in other contexts and may be used in scales, depending on the desired sound, but the fingers must be trained to articulate by themselves. Therefore, while practicing scales staccato, raise your fingers while keeping the wrist and forearm perfectly still, without being stiff or tense.

I should note that the scales in this Mozart sonata should be played non-legato rather than staccato, meaning only that the notes are not connected. Practice to achieve an even, beautiful articulation.

If you practice in this way you’ll progress regardless of your age!

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