1. Sul ponticello

The Italian term sul ponticello refers to a bow position where the bow is placed “on the bridge”, or in the vicinity of the bridge, in order to achieve an overtone-rich, corrupted timbre, that may be perceived as scratchy or distorted when used in combination with various bow pressures.[1]

As Patricia and Allen Strange note (2001, p. 3), Sylvestro Ganassi dal Fontego (1492–1565) described what may have been sul ponticello in his Regola Rubertina of 1542. However, as David Boyden (1965) posits,

the distance of the bow from the bridge is determined by the kind of effect and tone desired: well away from the bridge and near the fingerboard for sad effects; near the bridge for stronger and harsher sounds; and in between for normal playing. There is no evidence that Ganassi was thinking of sulla tastiera and sul ponticello in the modern sense… when he spoke of ‘near the fingerboard’ and ‘near the bridge’, respectively. (p. 77)

Furthermore, Ganassi’s treatise discusses the viola da gamba rather than the baroque violin.

In the following century, Carlo Farina (1600–1639) described a technique for the baroque violin in the Avertimenti, or instructions, for the Cappriccio Stravagante advising that the player should play with the bow “a finger’s width from the bridge” (Farina, 1627, p. 32).[2]

Since this time, scores of composers have used this technique with increasing regularity and variety.[3] In post-Second World War repertoire written for the modern violin,[4] variations often appear, from sul ponticello to molto sul ponticello, in reference to the proximity of the bow to the bridge. For sul ponticello, this may be over a range of up to approximately one centimetre away from the bridge. For molto sul ponticello, this may be playing with the bow only just on the playing side of the bridge, a matter of less than a millimetre away from the bridge, or in some cases, with the bow hair actually contacting the wood of the bridge.

In her string writing, Liza Lim has employed the marking h. Sul pont as an instruction to “play near bridge producing many different harmonics available by adjusting bow position and pressure”.[5]


Sul ponticello on the baroque violin:

When using sul ponticello bow positions on the baroque violin, I have observed a greater distance from the bridge in which a corrupted, random, overtone-active effect may be achieved with gut strings than that possible with the steel strings of a modern violin. Because of this, a greater range of variation is possible in sul ponticello bow positions on the baroque violin than on its modern counterpart.


The following is an example of a G major scale played sul ponticello followed by molto sul ponticello on the baroque violin.

Video example 1.1 – G major scale sul ponticello, G major scale molto sul ponticello


The following is an example of molto sul ponticello combined with tremolo in Vincent Giles’ silver as catalyst in organic reactions (2016, p. 3).

Video example 1.2 – molto sul ponticello excerpt in silver as catalyst in organic reactions by Vincent Giles (2016, p. 3), bar 81


Figure 1.1 – silver as catalyst in organic reactions by Vincent Giles (2016, p. 3), bar 81


The following is an example of a passage moving from sul ponticello to molto sul ponticello combined with a harmonic trill in Samuel Smith’s archive (2017a, p. 1).

Video example 1.3 – sul ponticello transitioning to molto sul ponticello excerpt in archive by Samuel Smith (2017a, p. 1), bars 2-3


Figure 1.2 – archive by Samuel Smith (2017a, p. 1), bars 2-3


Suggested notation:

Appearing above the intended passages, s.p. = sul ponticello, m.s.p. = molto sul ponticello, as in Figures 1.1 and 1.2 above.


[1] For further discussion of this technique, see Sul ponticello (Grove Music Online, 2001).

[2] For the surviving original violin part of this piece, which includes the Avertimenti, see Farina (1627, p. 32). In the German, the instruction is given as “nahe bey dem Steg/etwan ein quer Finger darvon”.

[3] For example, Hector Berlioz (1803–1869), Richard Wagner (1813–1883), and Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951).

[4] For example, Richard Barrett (b. 1959), Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943), Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935), György Ligeti (1923–2006), and Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), among many others.

[5] For instance, in her solo viola work Amulet (Lim, 1993, p.1).