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Ominous Pizzicato Strings (Up for Grabs)

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Pizzicato strings are often used for creepiness.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
DrNoPuma on Jun 17th 2016 at 2:05:26 PM
Last Edited By:
DrNoPuma on Oct 17th 2016 at 9:09:40 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Formerly known as Creepy Pizzicato Strings. Needs a Better Description. Rolling Updates.


A subtrope of Mood Motif. Playing bowed instruments - violins, cellos, etc. - pizzicato is a popular technique that has been used in many pieces of music. However, it is usually known in fiction for creating a sinister atmosphere.

It may be heard in the leitmotif of a trickster character, or as background music in a creepy place, like a haunted house.

Compare ''Psycho'' Strings, a more intense variation of this trope. See also Xylophones for Walking Bones and Creepy Circus Music, which are also usually playful-in-a-dark-way in tone, and may overlap with this trope. Contrast Scare Chord, a loud, sudden burst of music.


Examples:

Live-Action TV

  • British reality food show Come Dine With Me has as its theme tune a low-key piece played on Creepy Pizzicato Strings. This conveys an impression of a fine dining experience involving people who pride themselves on their taste, intelligence and sophistication - with an ominous hint it has the potential to go horribly, horribly, wrong. After all, you are putting together five carefully selected people who have never met before and challenging them to host five consequetive dinner parties for each other over five nights. What could ''possibly'' go wrong?

Music

Theatre

  • The famous tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt starts out with low pizzicato strings that alternate with a bassoon. In the middle section, the pizzicato strings get higher, and nearly dominate the tune. However, the final, most frantic section of the song has the strings play normally.

Video Games


Indices:

Feedback: 33 replies

Jun 17th 2016 at 4:18:04 PM

A lot of old Tweetie Bird cartoons would play pizzicato when Sylvester was tip-toeing around, plotting to eat Tweetie. (I tink dat bad ol' puddy tat's up to tumting!) The term, incidentally, is brought up in one episode where Granny threatens to turn Sylvester into a violin if he hurts her canary.

Jun 18th 2016 at 2:07:18 AM

Plucked strings = guitar, harp, bass etc right?

Jun 18th 2016 at 5:04:31 AM

Can we get a sound example to hear the difference to Psycho Strings?

Jun 18th 2016 at 6:57:36 AM

^^ Ah, good point. The answer is no, but is there a catch-all term for violins, cellos, and similar instruments? Because that's what I'm talking about.

^ I've added weblinks to most of the examples.

Jun 18th 2016 at 8:03:00 PM

"Whenever you hear pizzicato (plucked) strings in the music, it usually means no good."

This is a rather drastic generalization, and it seems likely to generate misuse. Pizzicato is one of the most basic ways of playing stringed instruments, and composers have used it in quite a variety of moods.

Jun 19th 2016 at 6:38:26 AM

St Saens' Dance of Death is inreoduced by pizzicato violins, a motif recurring throughout the piece. Berlioz, in the "March to the Scaffold" movement of the Symphonie Fantastique, also uses pizzicato to telling effect as the protaganist is led to the guillotine.

Jun 19th 2016 at 1:21:11 PM

The Miracle Of Sound examples are actually Creepy Circus Music.

Pizzicato Strings invoke the feeling of stealthiness more than creepiness in me. It's often used when characters sneak around guards or break into forbidden places.

Jun 21st 2016 at 6:55:33 AM

I guess Scare Chord should be mentioned somewhere in the description.

Jun 21st 2016 at 7:04:23 AM

^ Where? This trope is quiet and subtle, unlike a Scare Chord.

Jun 21st 2016 at 7:21:41 AM

^ In contrast? If you don't judge that important, don't put it in, I was just spitballing.

Jun 21st 2016 at 8:44:05 AM

^ Oh. Right. :P

Yeah, I think I can do that.

Jul 1st 2016 at 2:14:19 PM

Pizzicato basslines are so incredibly common as to not be tropeworthy per se.

Jul 1st 2016 at 3:58:50 PM

Being common doesn't stop something being a trope.

Jul 2nd 2016 at 11:51:41 PM

They aren't even creepy most of the time. That's what makes them not tropeworthy.

Jul 3rd 2016 at 3:12:18 AM

^ As said before I also don't associate a Pizzicato bassline with creepy moments. For me it would be a suptrope of Mickey Mousing when it indicates characters tiptoeing around.

Jul 21st 2016 at 9:21:37 AM

I've been trying to make this trope so that it covers both sinister and sneaky music. I feel like they're similar enough that they can be merged into one trope. The only two "sneaky" examples I currently have (Looney Tunes and In the Hall of the Mountain King) are both sinister-sounding as well.

So basically, if you really think that only the "Sneaky" music is tropeworthy, then I need more examples of that.

Jul 24th 2016 at 4:56:57 PM

Again, violins ain't "plucked". Dunno what's the right word tho.

Jul 24th 2016 at 5:42:18 PM

^ It's true. Violins are... they're... they, um... they just... they... ah... they... they're... Ugh, I've typed they so many times it seems misspelt now. Know when that happens? Point is, DAN 004 is right; technically violins aren't plucked.

Jul 24th 2016 at 6:41:54 PM

^^ Oh, so that's what you meant the first time! I thought you were criticizing me on using the term "string instruments" by pointing out that not all strings are violins or similar instrument. Now I see what you mean, but I don't know the right word either. I don't know much about string instruments in general, to be honest.

Jul 25th 2016 at 5:19:01 PM

I tried to look it up and violin is a bowed instrument. Y'know cuz you use an archer's bow to play it. :P

Jul 28th 2016 at 6:03:33 PM

Laconic still says "plucked".

Aug 10th 2016 at 3:04:08 AM

  • British reality food show Come Dine With Me has as its theme tune a low-key piece played on Creepy Pizzicato Strings. This conveys an impression of a fine dining experience involving people who pride themselves on their taste, intelligence and sophistication - with an ominous hint it has the potential to go horribly, horribly, wrong. After all, you are putting together five carefully selected people who have never met before and challenging them to host five consequetive dinner parties for each other over five nights. What could ''possibly'' go wrong?

Oct 12th 2016 at 10:40:01 PM

This looks like a variation on or relation to Mood Motif.

Oct 13th 2016 at 4:23:23 AM

Saying that bowed instruments aren't plucked, that's ignorance bias. Plucking a bowed instrument is a well known technique, with a very distinct sound. And yes, this technique IS often used as an indicator of both unease and sneakiness.

Oct 14th 2016 at 1:15:50 AM

^ While plugged bowed instruments can be used for both unease and sneakiness, each serves a different atmospheric purpose and examples should not be lumped together under the same trope.

Oct 14th 2016 at 8:04:07 PM

^ Agreed, this needs to be split in two, one Creepy Pizzicato Strings and the other, Creeping Pizzicato Strings.

Oct 14th 2016 at 9:44:19 PM

^ Certainly no one will confuse those two tropes. :)

Oct 15th 2016 at 10:30:20 PM

Also there are circumstances under which violins are plucked.

Oct 16th 2016 at 9:01:20 AM

^^^^ If I must split this in two, then I will. But there's gotta be a better name for one of them.

Oct 16th 2016 at 9:12:26 AM

I have put this and the new trope Up For Grabs because I don't know much about string instruments. Let's let someone who knows more about them take control!

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