Wrist staccato can be a very tricky technique for beginner pianists to learn. Typically, this skill is not introduced until at least the second or third book in the piano method series because the player needs to have some understanding and ability to play legato (smoothly connected) and staccato (disconnected). Once the basic skills have been mastered, wrist staccato can be introduced to give a light, bouncy feeling to staccato playing and to make it ergonomically easier on the pianist. This skill takes a lot of practice and repetition with the teacher present so as to reinforce proper technique before wrist staccato is practiced at home.
Staccato is a musical term, typically signified by a dot over or under the note head. Some students tend to confuse a staccato marking with a dotted note marking, which actually makes the note longer. A staccato marking indicates that the note is to be played short and detached, but without changing the rhythm or tempo. In other words, the note is supposed to sound shorter than a legato note, but still take up the same amount of ‘space’ and ‘time’ in the music. Beginning students usually use finger staccato, and move on to wrist staccato as they start to advance in their music skills.
Wrist staccato is usually used to give a lighter, bouncier feeling to the music while reducing stress on the pianists fingers, arms, and shoulders. To get the feeling of playing with wrist staccato, hold the right forearm so that it is parallel to the ground. Without moving the arm at all, move the wrist and hand up and down gently on its hinge. There should be no stress, strain, or discomfort. Keep the wrist and fingers loose, and the hand cupped in a neutral position. It may help to use the opposite hand to keep the forearm still. Students just learning this technique tend to either use their fingers to play staccato or their whole arm. Care should be taken to make sure the arm is held still and the wrist is lightly bouncing without stress or strain. Proper demonstration is very important in learning wrist staccato.
After the student understands how wrist staccato should feel, it’s time to try it out at the piano. Start by using the third finger of the students dominant hand to play any note the student wants. Play the note repeatedly, and slowly, making sure to maintain the proper technique. A teacher’s watchful eye is extremely helpful in making sure the technique is being applied properly. Once the student has mastered this, he or she can move on to actual pieces of music that require wrist staccato.
John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano, Book 2, available at amazon.com, contains an excellent explanation and pieces to practice wrist staccato. Czerny-Schaum Book 1, also available from amazon.com, contains exercises to improve and strengthen wrist staccato along with many other finger dexterity exercises.