Bowed string instrument extended technique

Bowed string instrument extended technique

String instruments are capable of producing a variety of extended technique sounds. These alternative playing techniques have been used extensively in the 20th century. Particularly famous examples of string instrument extended technique can be found in the music of Krzysztof Penderecki (particularly his "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima"), Witold Lutosławski, George Crumb, and Helmut Lachenmann.

Bowing techniques

Bowing the body of the instrument

Bowing the body of a string instrument (which can include bowing the sound box, neck, tuning pegs, or scroll) produces almost no sound. At most the sound is a whisper of the bow hair moving over the wood. For this reason bowing the body of an instrument is more of a visual effect than an auditory one. A good example of this technique in a musical work is Helmut Lachenmann’s Toccatina, a piece written in 1986 for solo violin which uses many extended techniques.

Bowing on the bridge

Bowing on the bridge produce two different effects depending on how it is done. If it is done while the performer is in normal playing position the sound produced is quiet, whispery and a bit squeaky. This method could more properly be called bowing over the bridge since the bow hair is usually still in contact with the strings. Sul ponticello (bowing near the bridge) is a similar more common technique.

The other method involves the performing holding the instrument in their lap, placing the bow parallel to the instrument and firmly draging it across the side of the bridge. In this case the sound is a loud high pitched squeaky. An example of this playing technique can be found in Gérard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (1995).

Bowing the tailpiece

Drawing the bow across the tailpiece creates a very quiet resonant sound. Because the tailpiece is large and heavy this sound is general of a quite low pitch.

cratch tone

A scratch tone is produced by bowing the instrument in normal playing position, but applying very hard pressure to the bow. This produces and extremely loud and grating sound.

Bowing behind the bridge

This fairly common extended technique involves bowing the instrument on the short length of string behind the bridge. The tone is very high and squeaky. Depending on the instrument the pitch of the tones may or may not be perceived (cellos and double basses are more likely to produce recognizable pitches because of the longer length of their strings). This technique is used extensively in Krzysztof Penderecki’s "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima". Another interesting example is found in Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite where bowing behind the bridge in a violin cadenza represents a donkey’s braying.

Plucking techniques

On string instruments plucking the strings in called pizzicato.

Buzz pizzicato

Buzz pizzicato is created by placing a left hand finger parallel to the string and plucking the string forcefully so that the plucked string buzzes against the fingernail. An excellent example of this can be found at the beginning of Zhou Long’s Song of the Ch’in (1982).

nap pizzicato

Snap pizzicato was invented by Béla Bartók and used extensively in his music. The technique consists of pulling the string back more than would be done normally a releasing it so that it snaps forcefully against the fingerboard. The resultant sound is a loud snap, and contains very little pitch.

Nail Pizzicato

Nail pizzicato is another technique invented and used extensively by Bartók. To perform a nail pizzicato, the performer plucks the string with only the fingernail (in standard string performance technique the player uses the pad of the finger). The resulting sound is a bit more harsh and metallic.

Tapping techniques

"Silent" fingering

A performer can stop the strings with his left hand in an unusually forceful maneuver and thereby produce a percussive effect. Although quiet, the name “silent” is a misnomer and refers to the fact that the bow is often not applied when performing this effect.

triking the Strings

The strings can be struck with the hand or with another object to produce a loud ringing or percussive sound. The performers right hand is often used for this which leaves the left hand free to finger pitches or dampen the strings.

Tapping on the instrument

String instruments can be tapped just about anywhere. The body of a string instrument, being a resonant cavity, can resound quite loudly when struck with the fingers or another object.

Miscellaneous effects


An effect sometimes used for humorous effect by string players, “chewing” is performed by loosening the bow hair and placing the bow, bow hair side up against the back of the instrument. The bow is then rotated causing the bow stick to pop and crunch as it goes over the course bow hairs. This effect, which sounds remarkably like a person chewing something crunchy, is fairly quiet and could benefit from amplification.

Bow screw glissando

The bow can be held vertically and the screw of the bow placed firmly against a string either at the location of a fingered note or at some other point. The string can then be plucked with the right hand and the screw of the bow can be simultaneously dragged up or down the string. The effect of this is to produce a quiet rising or falling ping. This effect is used in Helmut Lachenmann’s Toccatina.

ee also

*List of musical pieces which use extended techniques


*Blatter, Alfred (1980). "Instrumentation/Orchestration." New York: Schirmer Books.
*Read, Gardner (1969). "Music Notation." 2nd ed. Boston: Crescendo Publishing Co.
*Turetzky, Bertram (1989). "The Contemporary Contrabass". New and revised edition (originally published in 1976). Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 0520063813. ISBN 9780520063815.
*Zukofsky, Paul (1976). "On Violin Harmonics." In "Perspectives on Notation and Performance" ed. Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone (New York: Norton, 1976). Essays reprinted from issues of "Perspectives of New Music". The "Perspectives of New Music" series. ISBN 0393021904. ISBN 9780393021905. ISBN 0393008096. ISBN 9780393008098.

External links

* [ Extended Techniques for Cello by Craig Hultgren] - a site devoted to the extended possibilities of the cello.

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