What is pizzicato?

Find out what pizzicato means in music.

A player playing pizzicato on the double bass
Published: July 5, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Pizzicato is an instruction for musicians playing stringed instruments, such as the violin. Often abbreviated to ‘pizz’ on a musical score, it indicates that musicians should use their fingers to pluck the strings, rather than play them using a bow.

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Pizzicato comes from the Italian word for ‘pinched’, and the technique results in individual notes having a staccato (detached) sound.

Examples of pizzicato

Perhaps one of the most famous pieces of pizzicato classical music is Léo Delibes’s Pizzicati from the ballet Sylvia. The string-plucking technique is used throughout the piece, which has featured in countless films, cartoons and TV programmes (often to accompany a character tip-toeing or sneaking about), so you’re likely to recognise it, even if you weren’t aware of the piece’s title or origins.

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Other examples include Benjamin Britten’s Playful Pizzicato; Johann Strauss’s Pizzicato Polka, and Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt, to name a few.

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