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Exploring String Techniques

Aim: How can string players use their bows and hands to create different sounds on their instruments?
Summary: Students explore expressive qualities through various string techniques.
Standards: US 3, 4, 6, 7; NYC 1, 2, 4
Grade: 4th
Concept: Articulation, Instrumental
Artistic Process: responding, creating
Materials: ribbon or string, audio and/or video recordings of string ensembles
Time Required: 20 minutes


  1. Investigate string techniques:
    • One of the main characteristics of string instruments is that they, of course, have strings. These strings can be played with a bow or fingers.
    • We are going to explore some of the different sounds that string instruments can make and how musicians create those sounds.
  2. Using a long piece of string or colored ribbon (to represent the strings of instrument), demonstrate sliding your hand over the string very smoothly. Introduce the phrase “smooth legato” and use your voice to demonstrate the sound. Student volunteers take turns and all students should mimic the gesture, saying the phrase “smooth legato.”
  3. Repeat the exercise with phrases like “plucky pizzicato,” “trembling tremolo,” “choppy staccato,” and “bouncy spiccato,” demonstrating on the ribbon or string how the fingers or bow interact with the string. For each, students should create a gesture, use their voices to create the sound, and repeat the terms. To reinforce, teacher and student volunteers can play “Simon Says” with the string terms.
  4. Show videos of string players demonstrating these different techniques.
  5. Listen to examples of pizzicato, legato, and tremolo, etc. Have students respond to the excerpts using their gestures and/or voices.
    • How can you identify each technique? How do they sound different?
    • How does each one give a different feeling to the music?
    • If you could write music for a string ensemble, which techniques would you use and why?

Going Deeper

Have students create an arrangement for a string soloist or school ensemble of a simple song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and suggest alterations in pizzicato, tremolo, legato, etc.


Sneak Peek of Thomas Adès's The Four Quarters with the Emerson Quartet


Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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