3. Sub ponticello

The Italian term sub ponticello,[1] also called dietro ponticello, refers to playing the string “under the bridge”, or “behind the bridge”, meaning between the bridge and the tailpiece. This short length of string may be bowed or plucked, and the pitch will vary slightly depending on the exact string length from instrument to instrument.

What may have been intended as sub ponticello appears as early as 1627 in Carlo Farina’s Cappricio Stravagante (Farina, 1627, p. 32). In the Avertimenti, or instructions, for representing il Gatto (the cat), the performer is instructed to play with the bow “behind the bridge”.[2]

Sub ponticello appears regularly in post-Second World War repertoire for the modern violin,[3] bowed con crine (with the hair), or col legno (with the wood), as well as plucked with the finger or the fingernail.


Sub ponticello on the baroque violin:

Similarly to the modern violin, sub ponticello may be used on the baroque violin in arco con crine or col legno, and in pizzicato either with the finger or the fingernail.


The following is an example of sub ponticello played on the baroque violin with arco con crine, col legno tratto, col legno battuto, pizzicato with the finger pad and pizzicato with the fingernail.

Video example 3.1 – sub ponticello in arco con crine, col legno tratto, col legno battuto, pizzicato with the finger pad and pizzicato with the fingernail


The lack of fine tuners on the baroque violin means that the sub ponticello string length available to be bowed is generally longer than on a modern violin (see Figure 3.1 below). It is also possible to bow the length of string that lies over the tailpiece. This area is not usually accessible on the modern violin due to the space occupied by the fine tuners and the risk of catching the bow hairs on these metal attachments.

Figure 3.1 – view of sub ponticello area on baroque violin showing accessible string length over the tailpiece due to lack of fine tuners


As with the modern violin, the pitch of the sub ponticello string length will vary from one baroque violin to the next. While it is sometimes possible to use a left-hand finger to slightly vary the string length, and therefore the pitch, of this length of string when played on the modern violin, this is very difficult to execute on the baroque violin. This is because the hand position required for this technique is not possible to achieve at the same time that the left hand is supporting the instrument, as it must with the baroque violin in the absence of a chin rest.


Suggested notation:

“x” notehead at pitch of open string combined with “sub pont.” above the stave, as in Figure 3.2 below.

Figure 3.2 – example of a possible notation for a sub ponticello passage


[1] For further discussion of this technique, see Strange and Strange (2001, p 9).

[2] For the surviving original violin part of this piece, which includes the Avertimenti, see Farina (1627, p 32). The instruction is given in the German, “hinter den Steg”.

[3] For example, in string music by George Crumb (b. 1929), Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935), and Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), among many others.