3. Fingernail pizzicato

The strings may be plucked with the fingernail of the right hand. This results in a more forceful, penetrating, and articulate attack than when plucking with the finger pad. The string may be plucked in a downward motion, when the nail is long enough, or flicked upwards with the back of the nail.

Fingernail pizzicato was used by composers at least as early as Bartok, in the second violin part of his String Quartet No. 5 (1936, p. 8) and his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1939, p. 24), and appears regularly in repertoire written since the middle of the 20th century.[1]


Fingernail pizzicato on the baroque violin:

Gut strings do not have the same resonance as steel strings when plucked. Therefore, fingernail pizzicato is an effective method for making plucked notes louder and more articulate on the baroque violin. It does, however, have a more aggressive result than regular pizzicato, which may not be appropriate in all situations. As with snap pizzicato, fingernail pizzicato takes slightly longer to prepare for than regular plucking, and is not always suitable for longer or melodic passages. Furthermore, extensive fingernail pizzicato can make gut strings go flat in pitch.


The following is an example of fingernail pizzicato on open strings on the baroque violin, followed by some possibilities for stopped notes.

Video example 16.1 – fingernail pizzicato on open strings, followed by stopped possibilities


Suggested notation:

Above the relevant notes, “pizz.” and a crescent shape to indicate the nail, as in Figure 16.1 below. Alternatively, a triangle note-head, perhaps additionally with “fingernail pizz.” or “nail pizz.” above the stave may also suffice.

Figure 16.1 – examples of notations for fingernail pizzicato


[1] For instance, by composers including Elliott Carter in his String Quartet No. 2 (1959/1998, p. 1), Helmut Lachenmann in his string quartets Gran Torso (1988, p. 2), “Reigen seliger Geister” (1989, p. 8), and Grido (2002, p. 3) and his Streichtrio (Lachenmann, 1967, p.2), and György Ligeti in his Chamber Concerto (1970, p. 76).