Technique: How to vary and enhance your cello pizzicato

index image

Soloist and chamber musician Christoph Richter talks about good pizz technique with particular attention to the range of sound demanded by Debussy's Cello Sonata. From The Strad's November 2015 issue

Discover more Technique articles like this in The Strad Playing Hub

For cellists this is an important topic: often we have to play a pizzicato line, but we rarely talk about how we do it. I’m often frustrated when I see a cellist in a quartet rest their thumb on the fingerboard and pluck perpendicular to the string using the index finger, because the sound is so dry. I first realised the importance when watching the Hungarian violinist Sándor Végh: he always said to his violin students, ‘that movement is for scratching behind your ear, not for pizzicato!’ And he was right.

If you use your whole arm and hold the bow as I demonstrate below, pizzicato suddenly becomes much easier and you can produce a rounder sound. Obviously, the whole arm can’t move as quickly as one finger, so we reduce the movement for faster pizzicato.


Figure 1a shows a good arco hold; figure 1b shows a good pizzicato hold. Practise moving between the two, to help you balance your bow when shifting from pizzicato to arco and back. For single-note pizzicato, use the middle finger: this gives the roundest sound. I use the thumb and index finger to support it, so that I can produce more of a ‘boom’ than a ‘ping’ (figure 2).

When playing four-note chords, use your ring, middle and index fingers and thumb. Here the little finger holds the bow, which lies across the hand (figure 3). _ e ring and little fingers share a tendon, so this may require work: for some, it’s di_ cult to bend the little finger by itself. Practise moving between figures 1a and 3.

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Subscribe to continue reading…

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. For a limited period, you can try an online subscription to The Strad completely free of charge.

  • Free 7-day trial

    Not sure about subscribing? Sign up now to read this article in full and you’ll also receive unlimited access to premium online content, including the digital edition and online archive for 7 days.

    No strings attached – we won’t ask for your card details

  • Subscribe 

    No more paywalls. To enjoy the best in-depth features and analysis from The Strad’s latest and past issues, upgrade to a subscription now. You’ll also enjoy regular issues and special supplements* and access to an online archive of issues back to 2010.


* Issues and supplements are available as both print and digital editions. Online subscribers will only receive access to the digital versions.