Pizzicato (from Italian pizzicare, to pluck, pinch) refers to a playing technique of plucking the strings on a stringed instrument. Different techniques are used on different instruments, such as the violin or the guitar. The plural form of pizzicato is "pizzicati."
The pizzicato technique first saw use in Claudio Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which was performed in the mid 1600's, sometime around 1638. Various other pieces of music use pizzicato; specific instructions are provided to performers when to use pizzicato. The abbreviation "pizz." is typically used in a musical score to indicate the use of pizzicato, and the peformer is to continue until the point when "arco" (which means "bowed") is written.
Bowed string instruments will typically play pizzicato passages with the right hand, while notes are fingered with the left. For short passages, the bow is held in the left hand while the strings are plucked with the index finger. During longer passages, the bow will be put down while plucking the strings. Other techniques exist, such as plucking the strings with the left hand, but are very difficult and are only used in the most virtuosic repertoire. Another technique is called the "Bartók snap" or "Bartók pizzicato," named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók who used the effects in his violin music and string quartets. This technique is produced by pulling the string away from the fretboard, and letting it snap back, creating a percussive, violent sound.
Other string instruments can be played pizzicato, but are done so rarely. The strings of a piano can be plucked directly, and the guitar can be plucked as well (though this is not called pizzicato, rather "finger-picking").
- Webster's New World College Dictionary, 2005