Plucking....

March 4, 2020, 5:03 PM · As rather a beginner- I'm interested in finding information on plucking. I've always enjoyed the sound of the violin plucked and most usually hear it in films and teleplays.

Is there a definitive instruction book or source on The Pluck?

Replies (13)

March 4, 2020, 5:13 PM · In my first lesson, my teacher asked 'what's the sound on the violin without a bow'. I answered 'pizzicato'. He was trying to make a point about how important the bow was to the sound. It didn't take.
March 4, 2020, 7:03 PM · Not that I know of. The basic pizzicato is pretty self-explanatory. If it's anything other than normal pizzicato, composers tend to be fairly specific about what they want you to do.

Maybe there are some drills or etudes for left hand pizzicato? I haven't encountered them, but LH pizz is something that actually requires practice beyond just knowing what to do.

Edited: March 4, 2020, 7:39 PM · Regular pizzicato has a few parameters that you can explore:

Where on the string do you pluck? At the end of the fingerboard, or higher up? You'll get different sounds.

Do you pluck horizontally or more vertically?

What do you do with your RH thumb? Plant it against the corner of the fingerboard for stability? Or let it float?

How do you hold your bow (if at all) whilst plucking?

If you are playing in an orchestra one thing that is fairly universally true is that you have to pluck louder than you think because pizz does not carry very well.

I'm going out on a limb here and say that people who are learning violin in their retirement probably should not need to worry about LH pizz except for the occasional novelty note. Dance of the Goblins is not in your future.

March 4, 2020, 8:44 PM · True, but I'm not sure there's enough to have a whole instruction book on it. It's all stuff that can be explained in a single 15-minute break in a community orchestra rehearsal. And a lot of it depends on the context, mainly on how long are the rests are before and after the pizzicato passage. (For example: the general rule I go by is to always anchor the RH thumb on the corner of the fingerboard, unless you have to switch back to arco quickly, in which case you have to make do with a floating thumb.)
March 5, 2020, 1:09 AM · You can get pizz. technique by doing guitar.
March 5, 2020, 2:56 AM · Yes to the thumb resting against the fingerboard corner, and I'd also advise tucking the frog into the palm of your hand. Otherwise if you make a quick lunge to play pizzicato there's a danger you may knock a chip out of your varnish, as I've done on many occasions
March 5, 2020, 5:24 AM · As with most musical things, the more you practice the more you discover and (hopefully) the better you get.

You can practice pizzicato on any music you want -- just put the bow down and pluck the music. When you're first learning a new technique such as pizzicato stick to easier music (less rhythmically complex and more narrow in range) where you only need to concentrate on the technique you're learning. Go back to earlier pieces you learned long ago and play them all pizzicato.

Experiment with the place you pluck so you'll be aware of the tonal differences and amount of energy you'll need to pluck with to get a decent volume out of your instrument.

And there are different manners of playing pizzicato and different problems depending on the music which combines pizzicato and bowing. Like Steve says, be careful in pieces where you bow and only have a couple of beats of rest before you start pizzicato. Often you won't be able to put your bow down so be careful of how you hold it while doing the pizzicato. In other instances you'll have time to put the bow down on your lap or hang it from your stand somehow -- again be careful so that you don't damage the bow or get rosin all over your clothes.

So practice pizzicato while holding your bow, practice pizzicato without holding your bow, and practice left-hand pizzicato (fairly easy on open strings, much harder on fingered notes).

But you've already got music to start practicing with.

And watch some youtube videos on the subject if you don't have a violin teacher you can ask.

Edited: March 5, 2020, 9:09 AM · I remember several conductors and two chamber music coaches complaining that no violin teacher would teach pizzicato properly. And I think they had a point. It generally does not feature in violin lessons (nor, it seems, in curricula--"normal" right hand pizzicato I mean).

The problem with pizzicato is that fingers (I am talking about the left hand) are soft, unlike the frets on a guitar. So the fingers of the left hand act as dampers and the tone will be short and soft. By contrast the bow can overcome the dampening effect of the stopping fingers and produce a carrying sound.

One important tip that is missing in the posts so far: Use vibrato on pizzicato notes. It makes the sound last longer and the quality of the tone will be a bit less like an explosion.

March 5, 2020, 10:06 AM · I'll just add my two centimes d'Euro:

- Press more than usual with the left fingers;
- pluck over the fingerboard; and,
- use the fat of the fingertip with a slight rubbing motion
(i.e.don't "hook" the string).

March 5, 2020, 4:51 PM · Another place where things get tricky is when you have to quickly go from arco to pizz, or vice versa. It can be hard to keep the bow under control, and you might even risk dropping it if you're not careful.

Last year I attended a workshop which (among other things) dealt with this, and picked up a technique that serves me well. It involves rolling the frog into the palm of your hand, where you can hold it with your other fingers while your index finger plucks strings. To go back to arco, you unroll the frog, which winds up in a place where you can quickly resume your hold. It takes some getting used to, but with practice you can switch back and forth quite rapidly.

March 5, 2020, 5:07 PM · There is no reason why anyone would require a book, consult your teacher.
March 5, 2020, 5:37 PM · I found that LH pizz became more difficult with aging. My guide is pretty much that if you can snap your LH finger and hear the sound you can probably doe LH pizz.

I sometimes use LH pizz for the first note of regular (RH) pizz if I think can't get my right index finger there in time. But (at my age) it works best if the first LH pizz note is an open string.

March 5, 2020, 5:59 PM · I'm right there with you Andrew.

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