Extended technique

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In music, extended technique is unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of singing or of playing musical instruments employed to obtain unusual sounds or timbres.[1]

Composers’ use of extended techniques is not specific to contemporary music (for instance, Hector Berlioz’s use of col legno in his Symphonie Fantastique is an extended technique) and it transcends compositional schools and styles. Extended techniques have also flourished in popular music. Nearly all jazz performers make significant use of extended techniques of one sort or another, particularly in more recent styles like free jazz or avant-garde jazz. Musicians in free improvisation have also made heavy use of extended techniques.

Examples of extended techniques include bowing under the bridge of a string instrument or with two different bows, using key clicks on a wind instrument, blowing and overblowing into a wind instrument without a mouthpiece, or inserting objects on top of the strings of a piano.

Twentieth-century exponents of extended techniques include Henry Cowell (use of fists and arms on the keyboard, playing inside the piano), John Cage (prepared piano), and George Crumb. The Kronos Quartet, which has been among the most active ensembles in promoting contemporary American works for string quartet, frequently plays music which stretches the manner in which sound can be drawn out of instruments.



Bowed string instruments[edit]

  • playing with a plectrum or pick
  • playing with percussion sticks, mallets, or other objects
  • bowing on the "wrong" side of the left hand fingers
  • bowing behind the bridge
  • bowing non-string parts of the instrument
  • exaggerated vibrato
  • snap pizzicato, also called Bartók pizzicato
  • tapping or rubbing the soundboard of stringed instruments
  • string scrapes with finger, nail, or object
  • percussive effects on body of instrument
  • tapping on the fingerboard
  • "seagull" harmonic effects
  • detuning a string while playing
  • preparation
  • resonance effects

Plucked string instruments[edit]

  • using a bow
  • playing with percussion sticks, mallets, or other objects
  • playing on crossed strings (called "snare drum effect" on guitar)
  • snap pizzicato
  • string scrapes
  • percussive effects
  • palm and finger muting ("pizzicato")
  • tapping on the fingerboard
  • string pops and slaps (fingerboard instruments)
  • preparation
  • detuning a string while playing
  • "3rd bridge", a guitar technique using the part of the string between the nut and the stopping finger; see Xenakis' cello piece Nomos Alpha for a similar effect.


  • prepared piano, i.e., introducing foreign objects into the workings of the piano to change the sound quality
  • string piano, i.e., striking, plucking, or bowing the strings directly, or any other direct manipulation of the strings
  • resonance effects (whistling, singing or talking into the piano)
  • silently depressing one or more keys, allowing the corresponding strings to vibrate freely, allowing sympathetic harmonics to sound
  • touching the strings at node points to create harmonics
  • percussive use of different parts of the piano, such as the outer rim
    • slamming piano lid or keyboard cover
  • microtones
  • use of the palms, fists, or external devices to create tone clusters
  • use of other materials to strike the keys
  • pedal noises

Woodwind instruments[edit]

  • multiphonics
  • harmonics
  • pitch bends ("lipping")
  • noisily activating keys without blowing
  • combination of a mouthpiece of one instrument with the main body of another, for example, using an alto saxophone mouthpiece on a standard trombone.
  • flutter-tonguing,
  • double buzz
  • breath noises
  • blowing a disengaged mouthpiece or reed
  • singing through the instrument while playing
  • internal muting
  • key or tone-hole slap - percussive sound made by slapping a key or keys against their tone holes

Brass instruments[edit]

  • singing through the instrument while playing
  • exaggerated brass head-shakes
  • noisily activating valves without blowing
  • pitch bends ("lipping")
  • combination of a mouthpiece of one instrument with the main body of another, for example, using a French horn mouthpiece on a standard bassoon
  • flutter tonguing
  • circular breathing
  • double buzz
  • half-valve playing
  • unconventional mutes or other foreign objects in the bell (e.g. plumbing parts)
  • breath noises
  • slap tonguing
  • blowing a disengaged mouthpiece


  • rudimental or "dynamic" double bass on the drum set, using hand rudiments such as double stroke rolls and flam taps and playing them with the feet
  • stacking 2 or more cymbals one on top of the other to change the sound properties of the instrument
  • bowed vibraphone, cymbals, and gongs
  • resonance effects (e.g., cymbal played on a timpani; cow bell struck against a bass drum, etc.)
  • pitch bends on mallet percussion
  • harmonics
  • custom-built percussion mallets, occasionally made for vibraphone or tubular bells (and other pitched-percussion in increasingly rare circumstances) which feature more than one mallet-head, and so are capable of producing multiple pitches and difficult chords (though usually only the chords they were designed to play). These mallets are seldom used, and percussionists sometimes make them themselves when they are needed. When implemented, they are usually only used once or twice in an entire work, and are alternated with conventional mallets; usually they are used only when playing a different instrument in each hand.


  • added electronics or MIDI control
  • Turntablism
  • Circuit bending
  • playing unplugged, or amplifying acoustical parts of normally electronic instruments (e.g. finger noise on the keys)
  • exploitation of inherent equipment "defects" (e.g., deliberately driving digital equipment into aliasing; exaggerating hum or hiss coming from speakers, etc.)

Other instruments[edit]

Notable composers[edit]

Notable performers[edit]





Drums and percussion[edit]














See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burtner, Matthew (2005). "Making Noise: Extended Techniques after Experimentalism", NewMusicBox.org.
  2. ^ Ceolin Elena; Tisato Graziano; Zattra Laura. "Demetrio Stratos Rethinks Voice Techniques: A Historical Investigation at ISTC in Padova" (PDF). Proceeding of the SMC Conference 2011 (Sound and Music Computing), Padova 6–9 July 2011. pp. 48–55. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]