Is Staccato an Accent?

Staccato and accent are two important musical terms that are often confused with one another. At first glance, they may seem similar – both involving emphasizing certain notes. However, staccato and accent refer to different techniques and serve unique purposes in music.

What is Staccato?

Staccato refers to notes that are shortened or detached. In musical notation, staccato is indicated by a small black dot placed above or below a note head. This dot signifies that the note should be played for less than its full written value, with the rest of the duration silenced.

When a note is played staccato, the attack is focused on the very beginning of the sound. The staccato note is then quickly cut off, creating separation between itself and the following note. This results in a crisp, sharp, and distinct articulation.

Staccato technique is commonly used to add lightness or briskness to melodic lines. It provides clarity between consecutive notes, preventing them from blurring together. Staccato notes help create rhythmic interest and bring out the articulation of a melody.

What is an Accent?

An accent refers to an emphasis or stress placed on a particular note or chord. Accents are used to highlight certain notes, chords, or beats within a piece of music. They involve a stronger attack or dynamic on the accented notes compared to surrounding unaccented notes.

In musical notation, accents are marked with symbols such as:

    • Accent mark
  • sfz – Sforzando (sudden, strong accent)
  • fz – Forzando (forceful accent)

Accents serve to reinforce the meter, rhythm, phrasing, and expression of music. They can be written into a score by the composer or added by the performer as part of their interpretation. Accents help create rhythmic interest, drive, forward motion, dynamic shading, and dramatic flair.

Unlike staccato, accented notes retain their full value and are not detached or shortened. The emphasis is on a stronger articulation and dynamic on certain beats or notes.

Key Differences Between Staccato and Accent

While staccato and accents both involve emphasizing notes, there are several key differences between these techniques:

Note Duration

  • Staccato shortens note duration, while accents maintain full note value.


  • Staccato features a focused, clipped attack on the very beginning of the note. Accents have a stronger, more pronounced attack, but the note still rings out for its full duration.


  • Staccato uses a dot above or below the note head. Accents are marked with symbols like >, sfz, fz.


  • Staccato separates notes, lending lightness and clarity. Accents reinforce meter, rhythm, phrasing, expression, and drama.

Effect on Surrounding Notes

  • Staccato contrasts with legato notes around it. Accents stand out against unaccented notes around them.

So in summary, staccato detaches notes from one another, while accents emphasize notes within a line or musical phrase. Staccato is about separation and bounce. Accents are about punch and power.

Examples in Music

Let’s look at some musical examples to further illustrate the distinct uses of staccato and accents:


In Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca,” the brisk, repeated staccato phrases in the melody create a light, propulsive rhythm:<audio controls> <source src=”rondo.mp3″ type=”audio/mpeg”> </audio>

In Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” the staccato notes bring crispness and separation between the rapidly firing notes:<audio controls> <source src=”sugarplum.mp3″ type=”audio/mpeg”> </audio>


The opening notes of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5″ feature strong, dramatic accents:<audio controls> <source src=”beethoven.mp3″ type=”audio/mpeg”> </audio>

In the ragtime style, left-hand bass notes are often accented to reinforce the syncopated rhythm:<audio controls> <source src=”ragtime.mp3″ type=”audio/mpeg”> </audio>

When to Use Staccato vs. Accents

As a general guide:

  • Use staccato to create separation between notes and add lightness or crispness to a melody.
  • Use accents to reinforce meter, rhythm, phrasing, and to highlight important notes or beats.

However, there are no strict rules. Composers and performers may utilize staccato and accents freely based on the desired musical effect. Oftentimes, staccato and accents are used together to create interest and color.

Impact on Style and Genre

The use of staccato and accents can significantly impact the style, feel, and genre of music.

  • In classical music, staccato provides rhythmic vitality. Accents are used to shape phrasing.
  • In jazz, heavy staccato swing rhythms and accented syncopations are idiomatic.
  • In marches and dances, staccato and accents reinforce the rhythmic march feel.
  • In rock/pop, staccato riffs and accented backbeats energize the groove.
  • In funk, the percussive staccato 16th notes and accented off-beats create a driving rhythm.

So while staccato and accents are distinct techniques, cleverly combining them can infuse music with spirited articulation and impactful inflection.

Learning Staccato and Accent Technique

Mastering staccato and accent technique involves focused practice:


  • Focus on a crisp attack at the very beginning of the note, then immediately release.
  • Let the air/bow/pick do the work, avoiding tension.
  • Keep a buoyant, energetic feel.
  • Start slow, with a metronome. Increase speed gradually.


  • Emphasize the attack, but let the note ring.
  • Use dynamic contrast – play accented notes louder.
  • Lean into accented notes, both physically and mentally.
  • Accent consistently – on the correct beats.

With mindful repetition, staccato and accents will become natural expressive tools for any musician.

Famous Pieces Using Staccato and Accents

Many famous classical and popular music compositions creatively utilize staccato and accents:

  • Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” – Staccato phrases
  • Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” – Staccato runs
  • Ravel’s “Bolero” – Accented snare drum rhythm
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 – Powerful opening accents
  • Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” – Staccato big band riffs
  • Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude” – Staccato passages and accents
  • Queen’s “We Will Rock You” – Staccato stomps and accents

This is just a small sampling – the possibilities with staccato and accent technique are endless!


In summary, staccato and accents are two distinct musical techniques:

  • Staccato shortens note duration to create separation between notes.
  • Accents involve emphasizing certain notes/beats by playing them louder.

Staccato adds crispness and bounce. Accents reinforce meter, rhythm, phrasing, and expression. While related, they have different purposes and notation. Both can infuse music with articulation and style when applied thoughtfully.

So next time you hear a snappy staccato melody or a powerfully accented chord, listen closely – you’ll be able to distinguish these handy techniques that allow musicians to play with punch and pizzazz.


The Editorial Team at brings you insightful and accurate content on a wide range of topics. Our diverse team of talented writers is passionate about providing you with the best possible reading experience.