Pizzicato

By Lucia · 2 minute read

Pizzicato

played by plucking the strings of a musical instrument such as a violin or cello with the fingers instead of using a bow

Cambridge Dictionary

Pizzicato is where the journey begins for most string players. Holding the bow feels like such an alien thing at first that it’s wise to tackle the challenges of note-reading and violin posture without the distraction of misbehaving pinkies and thumbs on the bow.

A few years back I was teaching a young student who liked to start every lesson with a particular pizzicato piece from the first page of her beginner book. I saw no harm in this little ritual, as it brought her so much joy and generally got her focused and ready to learn. One week her Mum exclaimed “but you’re too good for pizzicato now! There’s no need to play that piece anymore.”

It struck me then that once the first few hurdles of violin playing are overcome, it’s very rare for violinists to practice this skill again.

Ever!

Whizz forward several years and enter a new challenge: orchestral playing. Imagine the excitement of your first rehearsal, taking your seat at the back of the 2nd violins and suddenly being faced with the word pizzicato again – a word you haven’t seen since your first few weeks of lessons. It may have felt easy back then, with your thumb wedged against the corner of the fingerboard and only open strings to navigate! But now there’s a conductor in front of you asking for dynamics and phrasing, not to mention the quick change to arco at the end of the passage requiring you to hold your bow in your fist whilst plucking faster than you’ve ever done before.

Pronunciation

As a half-Italian I feel this is very important!

Notice how in English, double z is soft: whizzing or fizzing.

But in Italian, there’s a “t” sound before the zz: think how you say pizza, or piazza.

Pizzicato Repertoire

If this is you, fear not! Practising pizzicato can be more fun than you think, especially if you have the right resources.

Over the coming months I’ll be posting a collection of violin duets taken from real orchestral works that showcase this oft-neglected skill, so you’ll be the envy of all your orchestra colleagues! Practice the parts at home, play along with a recording or enjoy them with a friend or teacher.

I look forward to adding to this little library of pizzicato violin duets, so do get in touch if you have any requests!

Delibes: Sylvia

Delibes wrote his ballet Sylvia in 1876.

You may have heard this movement in the 1995 film Babe when Babe (a pig) and Ferdinand (a duck) break into the farmhouse to steal the “mechanical rooster”: farmer Hoggett’s shiny new alarm clock!

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