How to Play Portato (Portamento) on the Piano?

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Portato (commonly referred to as Portamento) is somewhere between legato and staccato. Legato means to play notes connected while staccato means to play them detached, sometimes even short in faster music. Portato would fall in-between these two styles of play. Generally, the notes are played long but slightly detached. Portato is not an exact science so knowing how to play is determined by what style of music you’re playing, the tempo, as well as the context of the particular passage.

In the video above I use an example of the second movement of the Mozart K330 Sonata in C-major – which incidentally starts with three notes that are portamento. You can watch the video to gain insights.

The piano is unique from other instruments because repeating the same note, they will be detached unless you utilize the pedal. Every note has a damper which ends the sound of a note when the key is released (unless you have the pedal down which raises the dampers).

On wind instruments, the tongue is used to delineate each note of a phrase unless it is slurred. String instruments also have different bowings to achieve the proper phrasing.

There are several techniques for playing portato on the piano. One approach is to brush the keys with your fingers. However, since key tops vary from piano to piano, this can be unreliable since ivory keys feel different from plastic key tops. Also, the moisture level in your hand will change the resistance you feel on the keys.

Here is a technique you may find helpful for achieving slightly detached repeated notes. It involves lifting previously played fingers high to allow as much legato as possible:

You can always detach the notes more since this technique gives you total control of the length of notes. It can also be utilized for passages of different notes. You must practice without the sustain pedal to achieve the phrasing desired. Later, using the pedal can add color to your playing.

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