Pizzicato (pronounced /ˌpɪtsɪˈkɑːtoʊ/, from the Italian: pizzicato, roughly translated as plucked) is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of stringed instrument.
- On bowed string instruments it is a method of playing by plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than using the bow. This produces a very different sound from bowing, short and percussive rather than sustained.
- On a keyboard string instrument, such as the piano, pizzicato may be employed (although rarely seen) as one of the variety of techniques involving direct manipulation of the strings known collectively as "string piano".
- On the guitar, it is a muted form of plucking, which bears an audible resemblance to pizzicato on a bowed string instrument with its relatively shorter sustain. For details of this technique, see palm mute.
The first known use of pizzicato in classical music is in Claudio Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (around 1638), in which the players are instructed to use two fingers of their right hand to pluck the strings. Later, in 1756, Leopold Mozart in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule instructs the player to use the index finger of the right hand. This has remained the most usual way to execute a pizzicato, though sometimes the middle finger is used. The bow is held in the hand at the same time unless there is enough time to put it down and pick it up again between bowed passages.
Use in various styles of music
In jazz and bluegrass, and the few popular music styles which use double bass (such as psychobilly and rockabilly), pizzicato is the usual way to play the double bass. This is unusual for a violin-family instrument, because regardless whether violin-family instruments are being used in jazz (e.g., jazz violin), popular, traditional (e.g., Bluegrass fiddle) or Classical music, they are usually played with the bow for most of a performance. In Classical double bass playing, pizzicati are often performed with the bow being held in the hand; as such, the string is usually only plucked with a single finger. In contrast, in jazz, bluegrass, and other non-Classical styles, the player is not usually holding a bow, so they are free to use two or three fingers to pluck the string.
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