Arco and Pizz

Upright-and-Electric-Bass-52Arco and pizz (or pizzicato) are concepts that apply primarily to the upright bass. I say primarily because since pizzicato refers to plucking the strings of an instrument with the fingers instead of another device, such as a bow, We often play the electric bass in a pizzicato fashion.  However, when we refer to arco and pizz, we are most often referring the two most common ways an orchestral player plays a stringed instrument. Arco means to play with a bow. Pizzicato or Pizz means to pluck the strings with one’s fingers.

I am primarily a pizz player, as most of my study and professional work has centered around pop and jazz acoustic bass playing, 95% of which is pizz playing. In addition, jazz and pop pizz are different from orchestral pizz. When we play pizzicato in a jazz setting, we utilize the length of the index finger, and we really pluck the string hard, in order to create a snapping, grinding sound. An orchestral player would not seek such a sound on their instrument. Orchestral players generally attempt to get a warm, round tone from their pizzicato playing, and as a result, they often avoid digging in to the string and having the string slap back into the fingerboard.

If you’re playing pop and jazz, your pizz sound is everything, and what is happening in your plucking hand, from the way you strike the string, to the ever important muted notes and grace notes, to when you stop the note, are critically important.  I really dig in when I play upright, and I’ve been told many times that the sound I create with my right hand pizz technique sounds and feels really great.  If you decide to take upright bass lessons with me, we’ll spend a lot of time getting the snap and grind happening in your right hand, and getting all those hip grace notes and muted notes in the pocket.

While I am primarily an arco player, I studied classical bass with the Assistant Principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic while I was at CSUN, and while I am not an orchestral player, I have exceptional bowing skills.  Playing scales arco on an upright is demanding, and even those students that are not seeking orchestral gigs should undergo the rigor of having to play and sustain a note with a bow.