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, 2019 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, 2019 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. Dec 13, 2019 at 12:33
  • 1
    @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, 2019 at 17:52

4 Answers 4


@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.

Edit 17th July 2022: I forgot to mention that an open circle can also mean an open string. It is easy to see from the context whether it means an open string or a harmonic since there are only 4 strings and they can not be played as harmonics and any other note can not be played as an open string.

  • Fair enough: I just edited the question to suggest why one would expect a more concise "symbol" for right-hand pizz.
    – feetwet
    Dec 13, 2019 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. Feb 11, 2020 at 1:48

I dropped in to say "Indicating LH pizz with an open circle? Baloney! I've never seen that," but I thought I'd do my homework first. Indeed, it looks like Paganini did that himself in the 9th variation of the 24th Caprice:

enter image description here

... and so did the first printed edition:

enter image description here

It seems that, from the beginning of the notated history of left-hand pizzicato, the "o" and "+" were both present (see pages 12 and following of this very convenient dissertation); in fact de Tremais used both.

That said, common modern use has certainly settled on "+" and any use of "o" would no doubt confuse modern players.

  • 3
    That dissertation is an excellent reference, and well worth the read!
    – feetwet
    Sep 24, 2021 at 15:42

I believe in the Paganini the circle indicates a specific type of LH pizz., like a pull off on a guitar.

While the original question of why not a symbol instead of writing "pizz." and "arco" is an interesting one, pizzicato sections often go on for lengthy passages, and it would be inelegant to writing a pizz symbol on every note for say, an entire movement (Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony, 3rd mvt.). In a similar way, if one of the articulations indicated by a symbol continues on for a lengthy passage, the composer will usually indicate the articulation with the word rather than placing symbols on all of the notes. this then, would as with the arco indication require a norm. to indicate the end of the articulated section.


The reason right-hand pizzicato does not need a specific symbol rather than just "pizz." is that it cannot be done simultaneously with bowing other notes. In contrast, left-hand pizzicato can be interspersed with bowing or even done simultaneously with bowing other notes. That is its main point, actually. So you want to have something that can be applied to single noteheads.

  • Well, not simultaneously, but it is certainly possible to quickly switch back and forth between pizz and arco, and then it does get a bit cluttered. Sep 24, 2021 at 22:53
  • If you are at the frog you could probably squeeze in a bit of pizz.
    – Emil
    Sep 27, 2021 at 6:17

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