What is Pizzicato?

Pizzicato is the Italian word for pinch, and can also be loosely translated to mean plucked. Violins and other stringed instruments such as the cello or viola are traditionally played with a bowing technique (arco). Pizzicato means to pluck the strings instead, and this is normally done with your index finger.

Pizzicato creates a very different sound to bowing. While bowing creates sustained notes that melt into one another, pizzicato creates more of a percussive sound. This technique is popular in jazz, bluegrass and rockabilly music. Pizzicato can either be played with the bow resting in your hand, or without the bow if playing pizzicato for a long period of time.

How to Play Violin Pizzicato

To play a note pizzicato, place the tip of your right thumb against the upper right corner of the fingerboard near the E string, as shown in the photo below. Pluck the strings with the index finger about two inches along the fingerboard.

Pizzicato Technique

Pizzicato Practice Exercise

A good way to practice playing pizzicato is to hold the violin in the playing position and to play the open strings. Since you won’t be using the left hand to help play the notes, the strings are described as open. Before you begin, memorize the names of the open strings, as shown in the following photo.

Violin Open String Names

Practice playing the open strings pizzicato in the order shown below. The first time you play the exercise, say the names of the strings out loud as you pluck each one. The second time you play the exercise, count 1, 2, 1, 2 etc., and keep the notes even. Practicing on all four strings will help you to train the muscle memory in your hand.

Pizzicato Exercise

When you move on to playing more notes, you may find that you need to put more pressure on the strings with your left hand fingers. This will prevent buzzing and produce a cleaner sound. There are so many different ways you could play pizzicato – you can use just your right hand, left hand or both. Some people even bring the violin down to play it in a similar way to a guitar or ukulele, though this is not a common technique. Getting a good pizzicato technique early on in your violin lessons will allow you to explore all the versatile ways you can play your violin.

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