Not sure this is the right SE site, so please point out if there's a better one. It's also not quite the same as this question.

My son the violist has found a string quartet piece that he would like us to play as a family despite the fact that we have an unusual combination of instruments: my wife also plays viola, I'm a guitarist and our younger son is a keyboardist.

The current plan is for my wife to play the first violin part on her viola while elder son plays the viola part. Younger son will play 2nd violin on the keyboard while I play the cello part on acoustic guitar. (Another alternative would be for me to play the cello part on trombone, but it includes a few chords. Hard to do those..)

So, my question: the piece alternates between arco and pizzicato, and I'm wondering what the best way is to achieve a similar distinction on the acoustic or classical guitar. I don't want to create a bowed-string sound effect; I'm just wondering what the best way is to smooth out the transitions for the arco parts and exaggerate them on the pizzicato parts.

Any advice appreciated.

4 Answers 4


The usual way to smooth out note changes on guitar is to play legato. This means using techniques such as sliding from one note to another (on the same string, obviously), hammering on and pulling off notes, or bending strings - not too effective on nylon strung guitars.

For the pizz. parts, you could try palm muting, which works, as all I've suggested, better on electric guitars, but can be effective on steel strung acoustics.

As the good Dr. ordered, a swell (volume) pedal could also be used, if an electric guitar was forthcoming.

  • 1
    I have an electric, but not sure how well it would fit in with a couple violas. :) The palm-muting for pizzicato is a great idea. Thanks!
    – Mark Reed
    Apr 1, 2016 at 18:33

I play banjo which has almost no sustain and it's hard to get a good legato sound, so I'll often just adjust the arrangement to play multiple shorter notes, like 8 eighth notes in place of a whole note (which sounds on banjo like an eighth note followed by a long rest). If you do it tastefully it will carry its part and support the pulse or rhythm of the whole piece.


One option is of course to actually use a bow - this can be used to great effect.

Alternatively, the difference between a pick (or fingernails) and using the soft pads of your fingers to pick with can be accentuated by moving your right hand from near the bridge using a pick (sharp attack, more high harmonics, staccato sounds) towards the 12th fret when using your fingertips (gentle attack, much mellower, round sound.)

If you can use an electric guitar, bowing can be accurately mimicked by using the volume knob with your little finger, and ramping up from zero volume immediately after picking each note.

  • Would an Ebow work with an acoustic? And how does one play one string at a time with a violin bow?
    – Tim
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:28
  • @Tim An Ebow will work on a steel-string acoustic but not a nylon. Unless you have an arched bridge and narrow waist, the main way to play a single string with a bow is to mute all the others. It doesn't work very well in my experience. I've upvoted this answer even though in the asker's case I think an Ebow and/or your suggestion of legato techniques is a better way to go. Apr 1, 2016 at 17:32
  • Tim - you just work on damping the others. It works reasonably well.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:35
  • @Tim: The other possibility is that you restrict bowing to only using the first and last strings. It's admittedly limiting, but it can work. Apr 1, 2016 at 21:56

Without seeing the piece involved...

As an alternative to the above answers, I would suggest a drop-tuning with a glass or metal slide. It'll require a bit more work in terms of knowing what notes to hit when playing pizzicato, but doable (depending on the chords involved, of course).

Another alternative is to restring the guitar with flat-wound strings, which would reduce finger noise when playing legato.

  • I like the idea of using a slide, but why drop-tuning? A slide can be used just fine in standard tuning or an open tuning if a lot of chord work is required. Apr 1, 2016 at 18:23
  • A slide gets tricky (for me, at least - I'm a Bass player!), because there are no nice sounding open chords in standard tuning. Using a drop-tuning means that by putting the slide across all strings, you're playing a chord, and it's harder to hit a wrong note.
    – PeteCon
    Apr 1, 2016 at 18:27
  • I'm already using a drop-C tuning in order to hit the low notes in the cello part (the piece is King's Court by Susan Day). No trouble hitting all the right notes. Never played with a slide before; that's an interesting thought.
    – Mark Reed
    Apr 1, 2016 at 18:32
  • 1
    Ah, it's a terminology difference. What you call drop tuning I call open tuning. When I read drop tuning I specifically think of a tuning where one or more strings is tuned down. So drop D or dropped D both refer to the low E string being tuned down to D, which is not an open tuning. Note that when playing with slide, if you only strum the D, G, and B strings (and/or mute the others) you get a major chord in second inversion, so you can play chords with slide in standard tuning. Apr 1, 2016 at 18:32
  • My mistake entirely! Told you I was a Bass player.... :)
    – PeteCon
    Apr 1, 2016 at 19:36

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