Extended technique


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

  • 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[2]
  • parallel rather than perpendicular bowing
  • 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

  • using a bow
  • playing with percussion sticks, mallets, or other objects
  • playing on crossed strings (called "snare drum effect" on guitar)
  • snap pizzicato, in which a string is pulled away from the fingerboard until it snaps back and strikes the fingerboard.
  • string scrapes, a technique especially associated with electric guitar and electric bass, as played with a pick.
  • percussive effects, such as drumming on a string instrument body
  • palm and finger muting ("pizzicato")
  • tapping on the fingerboard
  • string pops and slaps (fingerboard instruments)
  • preparation of a guitar by inserting screws or pieces of metal in the bridge or between the strings.
  • 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

  • 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,
  • 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
  • circular breathing

Brass instruments

  • 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.
  • striking a gong and then inserting the vibrating metal into a tub of water, creating a glissando.
  • placing a cymbal on a timpani head


  • added electronics or MIDI control
  • Turntablism, such as scratching records or otherwise manipulating a record or turntable platter, often done in combination with a DJ mixer, to create unique sound effects and rhythms
  • Using a "kill switch" on an electric guitar to create quasi-scratching rhythmic sounds.
  • Circuit bending: DIY experimenting with electronic keyboards and electronic toys.
  • playing electric instruments 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, acoustic feedback, key click on a Hammond organ etc.)

Other instruments

Notable composers

Notable performers





Drums and percussion















See also


  1. ^ Burtner, Matthew (2005). "Making Noise: Extended Techniques after Experimentalism", NewMusicBox.org.
  2. ^ "Cello Map :: Index". www.cellomap.com. Retrieved 2017-10-28.
  3. ^ a b Dierickx, Zachary (2018). The Clarinet Works of Jörg Widmann: A Performance Guide to Fantasie for Clarinet Solo with a Survey of Unaccompanied Clarinet Repertoire and Guide to Contemporary Techniques (DMA). Ohio State University.
  4. ^ "Garth Knox – Violist Composer". www.garthknox.org (in American English). Retrieved 2017-10-28.
  5. ^ "Anne Lanzilotti".
  6. ^ Ceolin Elena; Tisato Graziano; Zattra Laura. "Demetrio Stratos Rethinks Voice Techniques: A Historical Investigation at ISTC in Padova" (PDF). Proceedings of the SMC Conference 2011 (Sound and Music Computing), Padova 6–9 July 2011. pp. 48–55. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2013-01-11.

Further reading

  • Bruno Bartolozzi; New Sounds for Woodwind, second edition, translated by Reginald Smith Brindle. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-19-318611-8.
  • Stuart Dempster; The Modern Trombone: A Definition of Its Idioms, The New Instrumentation 3. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979. ISBN 978-0-520-03252-1.
  • Michael Edward Edgerton; The 21st-Century Voice. The New Instrumentation 9. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8108-5354-6.
  • Douglas Hill. Extended Techniques for the Horn: A Practical Handbook for Students, Performers and Composers. [S.l.]: Alfred Music Publishing, 1996. ISBN 978-0-7692-2355-1.
  • Evan Hirschelman; Acoustic Artistry: Tapping, Slapping, and Percussion Techniques for Classical and Fingerstyle Guitar. Private Lessons (Musicians Institute). Milwaukee: Musicians Institute Press/Hal Leonard, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4234-0571-9.
  • Linda L. Holland and Evan Conlee. Easing into Extended Technique, 5 vols. [Ridgefield, Wash.]: Con Brio, 1999.
  • Thomas Howell; The Avant-Garde Flute: A Handbook for Composers and Flutists. The New Instrumentation 2. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974. ISBN 978-0-520-02305-5.
  • Ruth Inglefield and Lou Ann Neill; Writing for the Pedal Harp: A Standardized Manual for Composers and Harpists. The New Instrumentation 6. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-520-04832-4.
  • J. Michael Leonard; Extended Technique for the Saxophone. Wayland, MA : Black Lion Press, 2004.
  • Gardner Read; Contemporary Instrumental Techniques. New York: Schirmer Books, 1976. ISBN 978-0-028-72100-2.
  • Gardner Read; A Thesaurus of Orchestral Devices. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. ISBN 978-0-837-11884-0.
  • Philip Rehfeldt; New Directions for Clarinet, revised edition. The New Instrumentation 4. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-520-03379-5. Reprinted, Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2013.
  • Jamie Leigh Sampson; Contemporary Techniques for the Bassoon: Multiphonics. Bowling Green, OH: ADJ·ective New Music, LLC, 2014. ISBN 978-0-615-99938-8.
  • John Schneider; The Contemporary Guitar, revised and enlarged edition. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. ISBN 978-1-442-23789-6.
  • Reginald Smith Brindle; Contemporary Percussion. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-19-816247-6.
  • Patricia and Allen Strange; The Contemporary Violin. The New Instrumentation 7. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-520-22409-4.
  • Bertram Turetzky; The Contemporary Contrabass, new and revised edition. The New Instrumentation 1. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-520-06381-5.

External links

  • Shaken Not Stuttered by Anne Lanzilotti. Extended techniques for strings. Includes masterclass videos and notation suggestions.
  • Cello Map by Ellen Fallowfield
  • Woodwind Fingering charts
  • New Sounds for Flute by Mats Möller
  • Guide How to Prepare a Guitar on hypercustom.com
  • The Orchestra: A User's Manual by Andrew Hugill with The Philharmonia Orchestra. Includes definitions, descriptions and video interviews of extended techniques for most all common orchestral instruments.
  • oddmusic A website dedicated to unique, odd, ethnic, experimental and unusual musical instruments and resources.