Legato [Definition]

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What is ‘Legato’ in Music?

‘Legato’ is a series of smooth and connected notes where the successive tones do not have breaks between them (Dictionary.com). It comes from the Italian word legare which means “to join” or “to tie”.

When written into sheet music, legato is represented by a curved line that connects two or more notes and indicates that they are meant to be played so that they slur together (MasterClass.com).

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Example of legato in sheet music

This is done by playing the next note before the previous note has finished ringing out. It’s important to note that you are not playing multiple notes at once–such as playing more than one key on a piano–as that would be playing a chord instead of playing legato. Legato is about smoothly transitioning between one note and the next.

Legato Effect in Music

Legato is often used to create an elegant and fluid atmosphere to a song (MasterClass.com). You will hear it in songs that want to portray a romantic or wistful feeling in the listener as the notes feel softer since they are being slurred together.

You will also hear legato used in fast-paced music as it is easier to play many notes when they are allowed to blend together. This is usually when more slur is used in order to play more notes in a shorter period.

bassoon played staccatolegato, legato + vibrato, and slurred from Wikipedia

Legato in Vocals

Legato vocals involve sustaining notes without the interruption of consonants (MasterClass.com). As a result, it is usually used for vocalizations made up of vowels sounds and not for pieces that focus on lyrical content.

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Legato singing is used mostly in classical music–such as bel canto–which are pieces of music that do not require explicit articulation (Wikipedia.org).

In order to sustain these more fluid notes, singers need to be able to control their breathing in order to increase their stamina (MasterClass.com). Vowel sounds require a lot more air than consonants and because of the nature of legato notes, the singer in not able to break the successive notes in order to take a breath.

To get better at incorporating legato techniques into your singing, you can try using pitched “yawns” into your vocal training and warm-ups. This basically mean you will be starting on a higher note using an open vowel sound–something like an “ah” sound–and sliding down into a lower range all in one breath.

Legato in Instruments

For string instruments, legato is usually achieved by using a full bow stroke (Wikipedia.org). This is done through the controlled movement on the wrist in the bow hand and masking the short breaks between notes with vibrato.

Legato in guitars is achieved through techniques such as pull-offs, hammer-ons and string bending. This means that the player can play multiple notes with a single strum of the guitar strings by either taking their fingers off the frets–creating an open chord–or placing their finger(s) on previously open strings to create a new chord, or they can bend the string they are already playing to create a warbling effect.

Infographic of legato definition and its use in music, vocals, and instrmentals

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