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I was attempting to learn a bit about violin sheet music, and then I wondered if the act of producing sound with the finger or the fingernail had a written notation.

I had a hard time finding a video with someone actually doing it. I found a large one, so I chopped it - here: (he does it twice).

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This site needs more questions like this -- basic music knowledge questions in addition to specific esoteric questions. Thanks Omega. FWIW, I believe the earliest mention of the technique (not called pizz, but carefully described in prose) is Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda written around 1624, first printed 1638. – Michael Scott Cuthbert Apr 6 '13 at 12:36
up vote 13 down vote accepted

This technique is called Pizzicato. It's usually notated by just writing "pizz." above the notes that you are to play that way. The opposite off Pizzicato is Arco which simply means to use the bow.

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Linguistic note: Pizzicato is italian for “plucked” or “pinched” – Agos Apr 8 '13 at 21:30
My reference also gives "loco" as notation for "back to normal" (i.e. arco); however the main use of "loco" is to switch back to pitch as notated after an octavation passage. – guidot Apr 10 '13 at 13:31

Just to elaborate and clarify, there are a few different types of pizzicato:

  • There is the standard "pizz." which is done with the flesh of the finger on the bowing hand;
  • A pizz with fingernail, which gives a more crisp attack;
  • A "Bartok" or "snap" pizz where the performer pulls the string away from the fingerboard and releases to produce a harsh snapping sound;
  • A left hand pizz which performers may do while performing simple or thoughtfully written passages;
  • There is also strumming, which is notated with "pizz", an arrow to show direction, and usually an indication of "quasi chitara".

I thought it important to mention these things because the OP included the word "fingernail" in their question, and that is a specific type of sound that is not the standard pizzicato (in that it would need indication.)

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Thanks! Do "snap" pizzicatos have a notation of their own? – Omega Apr 6 '13 at 19:37
Yes, each type of pizzicato that I mentioned has its own unique notation. – jjmusicnotes Apr 7 '13 at 18:06
Does left-hand pizz always have its own notation? I thought it was sometimes a used when both (1) the length of time between arco-pizz-arco was insufficient to pluck with the right hand and (2) the pizz was possible with the left? – dumbledad Apr 8 '13 at 13:37
Left-hand pizz is usually a + sign above the note. You can see Hilary Hahn alternate between arco (bowed) and pizz in Paganini's Caprice No 24 at 3:07 - – asifrc Apr 8 '13 at 23:43

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