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I'm trying to figure out what (if any) norms apply to notation for pizzicato. As explained here, we have:

Left-hand pizz enter image description here Snap (Bartok) pizz

Do we not have any symbols used to indicate right-hand pizzicato? I have only seen it written out with the abbreviation "pizz" which, to avoid ambiguity, then requires a subsequent abbreviation "arco" to indicate a return to bowing! (Not to mention the semantic ambiguity in assuming that "pizz" is right-hand pizzicato, and not any other variant.)

ETA: Given that we have symbols for virtually every other string attack and ornamentation, it would seem exceedingly odd to have no symbol for this most-common form of pizzicato. Using the word abbreviations produces score kludges like the following. (pizz. arco, pizz. arco, ad libitum.... Heaven help us if anything unusual should happen!)

Tedious right-hand pizzicato notation


Another point of confusion: I have also seen an open circle used to indicate left-hand pizzicato, but only in scores for Paganini, like this:

Paganini left-hand pizz notation

Is this notation unique to Paganini? Generally I believe/assume that notation is used to indicate the note should be played as a harmonic.

  • Only a guess - but isn't r.h.pizz the 'norm'? The main alternative in most cases to arco? Sort of datum point for bowing or not? And, whatever the sign or symbol may be, a return to arco will inevitably need a sign or symbol to direct that. – Tim Dec 13 '19 at 10:32
  • @Tim: Yes, it's arguable that right-hand pizz is the default pizzicato. But no: Wherever there is a symbol that applies to each note – as is the case for every other type of pizz, as well as the more common symbols indicating martelé, détaché, tenuto, accent, harmonics, turns – no notation is needed to indicate a subsequent note is played "normally." In all of those cases the absence of a symbol (or special instruction) means "none of the above." – feetwet Dec 13 '19 at 10:56
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    One might well ask why bother requiring left-hand pizz! It's dangerously close to "composer wanking." Typically pizz is played LH only when it's easier or faster than trying to adjust the bow-hand from bowing to pizz position or vice versa. -- or of course when there's a pizzicato note simultaneous with bowed notes. – Carl Witthoft Dec 13 '19 at 12:33
  • @CarlWitthoft that sounds like a good answer: I.e., we can say that "+" is the symbol for pizzicato, and it's up to the performer to decide whether to pluck with the left or right hand. Just like it's ultimately up to the performer to choose fingering. – feetwet Dec 13 '19 at 17:52
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@feetwet Right hand pizzicato is, as you wrote, indicated with "pizz.". There is no reason to make any other symbol for that; you can say that the word "pizz." has become the symbol. Any different symbol will just be confusing.

Using an open circle to indicate left-hand pizzicato is a really bad idea since an open circle normally means a harmonic as you wrote. So a publisher should apply the symbols in the standard way they are known to violin players when he/she publishes violin music.

New symbols are only relevant when new playing techniques are invented.

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  • Fair enough: I just edited the question to suggest why one would expect a more concise "symbol" for right-hand pizz. – feetwet Dec 13 '19 at 0:54
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    My naïve guess is that the symbol is slightly clumsy because the act of switching between bowing and pizzicato is similarly clumsy. While a single left-hand pizz can be played simultaneously or fluidly within an arco passage, with right-hand pizz you are actually switching between two mutually exclusive modes, and the use of text reflects that. – the-baby-is-you Feb 11 at 1:48

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