The terms sul ponticello and sul tasto refer to bowing in particular regions of the string, as shown in this diagram:


Definitions and Abbreviations

  • sul ponticello=  to bow close to (or even on) the bridge of the instrument
    • variations:  au chevalet (Fr.); am Steg (Ger.)
    • abbreviations:  sul pont; pont; S.P.
    • intensifiers: molto sul ponticello OR alto sul ponticello: playing extremely close to or on top of the bridge
  • sul tasto­­ = to bow near or over the fingerboard
    • variations: sulla tasteria (It); sur la touche (Fr);  am Griffbrett (Ger.)
    • abbreviations: tasto, S.T.
    • intensifiers: molto sul tasto: playing far up over fingerboard, sometimes very near the left-hand fingers.
  • ordinario or normale:  to bow in the ordinary or normal fashion, canceling a previous instruction to play s.p. or s.t.
    • abbreviations:  ord. ; norm.;  N.

How It Sounds
Playing sul ponticello or sul tasto drastically expands the palette of sounds available on the cello, and both of these techniques can yield many subtle gradations within their category. In general, you will find the following:

Bowing in the ponticello region produces many high overtones, resulting in a thin, nasal, glassy, or sometimes metallic sound.  At the extreme, the fundamental pitch will nearly or completely disappear. |

Playing in the tasto region reduces the higher overtones, resulting in an ethereal tone.  At the extreme, the sound weakens and loses its core. |


Notation

Transitions between regions are usually notated with an arrow or a dotted line.


To learn and practice the best way of moving between these regions, read on: Smooth Transitions

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