Room 32—Three effects for string instruments

This section will introduce you to three effects which can be produced on string instruments, whether they are violins, violas, cellos or double-basses. The first and most recognizable one is pizzicato, which simply means that rather than the standard procedure of using a bow to activate the string; it is merely plucked. One of the best examples of this is the opening of the Scherzo movement from the Fourth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, where the entire string section plays pizzicato. Listen!

The second effect is known as col legno which means "with the wood." The player rather than pulling the horsehair of the bow across the string, actually strikes the string with the wooden part of the bow. This sound is heard to wonderful effect in a brief passage from the last movement of the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz. Be aware of the rhythmic “rattling” sound going on underneath the winds in this example. Listen!

The third effect is called sul ponticello which means "on the bridge." Rather than bowing the string across its midsection, the player is directed to run the bow over the bridge, or as close to the bridge as possible. This causes the instrument to produce a rather thin, metallic sound. This example actually combines two techniques: tremolo--whihch is moving the bow back and forth quickly, so it might sound like 16th or 32nd notes being articulated; as well as the playing by or on the bridge. In this example you will hear two sounds: the piano being played while the player is reaching inside to mute the strings on certain harmonic nodes. Over this, a cellist plays a rather violent tremolo sul ponticello that uses a glissandi (sliding pitch slowly up and down). It produces a sound unlike anything you’ve heard. Listen!

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