The guitar is a versatile instrument. This is one reason Ludwig van Beethoven called the guitar “a miniature orchestra in itself.”
Using special techniques, we can create varied sounds and textures. And one such special techniques on guitar is the “pizzicato”.
What is Pizzicato (pizz.)?
“Pizzicato” translates roughly as “plucked”, or “pinched”. The result is a short, slightly muted sound, much like a jazz “walking bass”.
Instruments using a bow (violin, cello, etc.) may use the end of their bow to pluck the strings for this effect.
On guitar, we usually opt for the thumb.
When we see music that calls for pizzicato playing, it’s usually abbreviated “pizz.”.
How to Play Pizzicato on Classical Guitar – Right Hand Position
To play pizzicato on the guitar, first place the outside of the hand on the bridge of the guitar (as in a “karate chop”).
Next, roll the hand down toward the strings until the thumb comes within striking distance of the strings.
When we play from this position, the flesh of the outer hand is muting the strings back by the bridge, though not completely.
Usually Bass Guitar Strings Only on the Pizzicato
Most often, we only play pizzicato on guitar using the bass notes and strings.
While there are exceptions, the vast majority of pizzicato effects written in guitar music use the bass only.
This may be because of the lesser sound quality and projection of the higher-pitched pizzicato notes, or for ease of playing.
Listen for the Balance of Pitch and Duration
Through trial and error, we can find the perfect balance of pitch and duration.
If we mute the string too much, the note will come out as a “thud” or a “thunk”, and we won’t be able to hear the actual note.
If we mute too little, the note will ring out as normal.
Between these two is a “sweet spot” where the note is still audible, but is shortened and altered in tone quality.
Practice Moving Into and Out of Pizzicato Position
To gain facility with the pizzicato technique, we can practice moving into and out of position.
We can use any simple exercise or excerpt for this. The goal is to be able to jump into perfect pizzicato position, and return to an optimal basic position. We should be able to do this in rhythm and without much “foot shuffling”.
With a little time and practice, we can become masters of the pizzicato!