1. Left-hand pizzicato

“Left-hand pizzicato” refers to plucking the strings with any finger from the left hand. At the same time, this hand is also supporting the instrument and stopping the pitches on the strings. Therefore, left-hand pizzicato should be used only when physically convenient, usually for isolated pizzicati rather than extended passages, and preferably on open strings rather than stopped notes.

While it is impossible to know precisely how early left-hand pizzicato came into use, it is possible to imagine it was employed in performance if and whenever it was more convenient than plucking with the right hand. An example for the baroque violin, from the Baroque era, can be found in Biber’s Battalia (1673/2007, pp. 7–8), where the solo violin is required to pluck the open E string to represent battle scenes. A performance of this passage may be found in the first instalment of the Recitals.[1]

Left-hand pizzicato has continued to be used regularly since this time, including famously by Niccolo Paganini in his 24th Caprice (1820/1973, p. 45) and the slew of virtuosic modern violinist/composers of the 19th to early 20th centuries.[2]


Left-hand pizzicato on the baroque violin:

Left-hand pizzicato is certainly possible on the baroque violin, as evidenced from the historical example in Biber discussed above. However, left-hand pizzicato functions in a slightly different way on the baroque violin than it does on the modern violin, due to an important physical limitation created by playing without a chin rest. Because of this absence of a chin rest, the left hand must assist with supporting the violin at all times, with the left thumb and index finger supporting the instrument, as shown in Figure 14.1 below. This means that the scope for altering the left hand shape, as it ideally would be done (shown in Figure 14.2 below) for an optimal vantage to execute left-hand pizzicato, is limited on the baroque violin. This is especially true when plucking stopped notes or maintaining arco on either stopped notes or open strings while plucking simultaneously with the left hand. This is not to say that left-hand pizzicato should be avoided on the baroque violin; rather it should be used with care, as in the example from The Glass Violin (Connor, 2018) given below.


Figure 14.1 – normal hand position on baroque violin with left thumb and inside of left index finger supporting instrument


Figure 14.2 – desired hand position for executing left-hand pizzicato, releasing inside of index finger to create space to clear strings. This position is not usually possible without supporting the instrument with a chin rest.


The following is an example of bars 1–2 in Biddy Connor’s The Glass Violin (2018, p. 1). The top stave represents bowed, tuned wine glasses, while the bottom stave represents the baroque violin line, employing left-hand pizzicato.

Video example 14.1 – left-hand pizzicato in The Glass Violin by Biddy Connor (2018, p. 1), bars 1-2

Figure 14.3 – left-hand pizzicato in The Glass Violin by Biddy Connor (2018, p. 1), bars 1-2


Suggested notation:

Regular note head with + above the note, as in Figure 14.4 below.

Figure 14.4 – example of notation for left-hand pizzicato on the first note of the bar, and arco on the final two notes in the bar


[1] The relevant passage may be found in the first recital, A Few Necessary Reminders, at 3:24.

[2] These include Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) and Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). Pierre Baillot (1771-1842) also describes left hand pizzicato in his L’art du Violin Méthode (Baillot, 1834, p. 219).