By Katharine Rapoport

Pizzicato is almost always a right-hand technique on the violin and is a good way to add variety to your playing. Here are some nifty pizzicato techniques to complete your knowledge of this plucky little sound.

Unless a piece of music uses only pizzicato throughout, chances are that you need to play some plucked notes right in the middle of other bowed notes. Each situation calls for a different technique:

  • When you have time to prepare: If pizzicato notes happen at the very beginning of a piece, or after a few rests, you have time to make the following moves:

    1. From your regular bow hold, fold the bow into the palm of your right hand by wrapping fingers 2, 3, and 4 securely round the frog.

      When you do this, you see the horsehair facing you directly.

    2. Extend finger 1 and your thumb.

    3. Keep this same general position, and place the tip of your thumb (pointing down) against the E-string side of the fingerboard, about 1 inch from the top end of the ebony, to let it be the pivoting point you may use to adjust your hand position.

    4. Use the pad of finger 1 to make the pizzicatos (to pluck the strings).

  • When pizzicato lasts for a few notes, with no time to change the bow hold: This technique is used for one or a few pizzicato notes that are amidst bowed notes. Keep your bow hold regular in every respect, except extend your index finger and suspend your whole hand a little down from your wrist, so as to get a favorable angle for the pizzicato finger to do its job.

  • When you can put down the bow and pick it up again: Ah! The easiest one — just put your bow across the shelf of the music stand and play regular pizzicato. You have two different choices here:

    • For slower music, or when plenty of space exists between notes, make a loose fist, extend finger 1, and then suspend your right hand a little from the wrist, just above the strings you want to reach.

    • For faster music or when lots of string crossings occur, use the same idea about making a fist as described in the previous bullet point. But in this situation, also extend your thumb and position it pointing down against the side of the fingerboard for extra support and leverage, just like when you still have your bow in hand.

You see pizz. written above or below the notes on the staff when the composer wants you to play pizzicato, and you see arco (Italian for “bow”) when the composer wants you to return to regular bowing.

This last right-hand workout is a short exercise in which you try out your new pizzicato skills. Try each technique along with the video tracks, so you become a plucky player.

Pizzicato party!

Pizzicato party!