Lora Staples - beginning violin and fiddle expert

A simple and easy approach to violin pizzicato

Approach pizzicato in a simple, yet effective, way.

In this video, Lora approaches pizzicato on the violin in a simple, yet effective, way. Enjoy!

Released on December 3, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi everyone. I'm Laura with Red Desert Violin and I'm here today for VirtualSheetMusic.com. And I'd like to talk about pizzicato today because a lot of people have questions about pizzicato. It's fairly simple but there's a lot of things you can do with it and sometimes the notation is confusing to people, so we're just gonna give you a crash course on pizzicato.

There's three basic kinds of pizzicato. One is with your bow-hold intact. So you hold your bow like you normally would but then you tilt it and then you've got your index finger available for pizzicato. 'Kay? So that's one way.

Another way is to hold your bow in a fist. Kind of like in these three fingers and then you can kind of make a gun shape. You see that? And then, when you turn your bow the right way, your thumb is available to put on the corner of the finger board and that stabilizes your hand and allows a very fast, very controlled pizzicato. This is what most beginners learn first, is to plant their thumb against the corner of the E string finger board. Right there. It's just very fast and very controlled.

This has a little bit less control but, with practice, you can also get fast at that method as well. The difference between the two is just, what kind of music are you playing and how much time do you have between the arco, which is the bowed notes, and the pizzicato? Because sometimes you simply don't have time to go from a bow-hold into that gun grip and then plant your thumb. There's no time. Like on the Gothic gavotte, which is in the Virtual Sheet Music library, by the way.

At the very end of the piece, before you take the da capo, you've got pluck, pluck. There is no time. I suppose you could maybe eke out enough time to get into a bow grip and then plant your thumb, but why? 'Cuz then you have to go back to your bow-hold for the da capo. So that's only two pizzicato notes. It's very advisable there to just go . . .

Nothing changed in my bow-hold. I just tilted my bow so that my horsehair was facing me and I did my two pizzicato notes and I'm ready for the da capo. My bow-hold is not disturbed.

There are pieces in orchestral repertoire and solo repertoire that have a long spell of pizzicato and, when that's the case, some people choose to put their bow down completely on their music stand and they plant their thumb on the corner and then they're free to do their whole piece pizzicato. Or if it's just a line or two, then you won't want to set your bow down on your stand. Just put it in your little fist grip and plant your thumb but keep your bow handy . . . and then it's ready. This little piece Gavotte by Gossec in the Virtual Sheet Music library is a really convenient way to practice going back and forth between arco and pizzicato.

I would start with one or the other. Let's just say it starts pizzicato . . . arco . . . pizzicato . . . arco . . . Then maybe you decide you're not gonna go into little pistol grip any more. You're just gonna keep your bow-hold handy. So, pizzicato . . . arco . . . pizzicato. Do you see the difference between when I was going into my pistol grip and when I was keeping my bow-hold intact? I know I do it very quickly and you can, too, with practice. It gets lightning fast.

OK, so I've only talked about the two kinds of pizzicato. There's a third kind and that is left hand pizzicato and it is usually designated with a little plus sign or a little t over the note and that means you're not supposed to do it with your bow hand. It's meant to be done with your left hand. Probably the most famous example of left hand pizzicato is Sarasate's music, specifically the Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate and I haven't played this since my graduate recital in college but I'm gonna play it slowly so you can see what it looks like and what it sounds like.

You see, I'm using all three of these fingers to grab the strings and pluck them. I bow and then pluck. That's a whole topic for a much longer discussion. Just know that when you see that little plus sign, you somehow have to figure out how to do that with left hand pizzicato.

An easier example of left hand pizzicato is when it's just an open string that you have to grab with your left hand, such as on this gypsy tune I'll demonstrate for you called The Romanian Train Song. I call it the Gypsy Orange Blossom Special . . . But that's more of an advanced example. Left hand pizzicato is quite a bit more advanced. If you're just learning pizzicato, just work on going from bow-hold to pistol grip pizzicato. Bow-hold to pistol grip and then work on going from bow-hold to, just tilt your bow and pluck with your bow-hold intact. Those are two very, very good skills that'll serve you very well until you get advanced enough to start messing around with Sarasate and things like that.

All right, that's it for the pizzicato and go ahead and post your questions below. I'll answer them personally. Thanks for watching and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

BrianClarke * VSM MEMBER * on April 1, 2017 @1:55 pm PST
Laura brilliant demo. Many thanks.
Sandra Byrd * VSM MEMBER * on December 13, 2014 @8:41 am PST
Hi Lora, I enjoy your videos. They are so very helpful. When you pizzicato, do you always pluck at the base of the fingerboard as opposed to over the bowing lanes? I am wondering if touching the area where the bow rides would interfere with the rosin and overall sound.
Lora * VSM MEMBER * on December 22, 2014 @1:07 pm PST
Hi Sandra
Sorry for my delayed reply. 'Tis the season!
You hit the nail on the head: you don't want to pluck where the BOW HAIR typically contacts the string for 2 reasons. First, because it will transfer finger oils to your horse hair. But more importantly, plucking closer to the bridge creates bad pizzicato tone. The further away from the bridge you can pluck, the better your tone will be!
Dieter * VSM MEMBER * on December 4, 2014 @11:34 pm PST
Hi Lora, I enjoyed watching your pizzicato lesson. My question is rather mundane by comparison. I am a little older, and I have trouble keeping my violin from slipping away. My fine chin rest is not helping much, but a more sticky shirt seems to help. I would appreciate any comments you might have. Thanks, Dieter
Lora * VSM MEMBER * on December 5, 2014 @10:43 am PST
Hi Dieter! I have just the video for you to watch. Here is the link:
It talks about shoulder rest slipping problems. But, the chin rest can also help. If you get a model that will "hook" under your jaw bone without gouging you or making you sore, it also helps keep the violin close to your neck. I use a STUBER, they can be found online easily. Get the BLACK one, not the brown, because the brown one is shaped totally different and does not accomplish the same thing. The black Stuber provides a little hook for your jaw, but it also has a smooth outlet spot for your jaw bone. I love mine. It is a side mount, which some people do not like, but I use it on my professional violin with absolutely no worries.
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