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Extended techniques are performance techniques used in music to describe unconventional, unorthodox or "improper" techniques of singing, or of playing musical instruments.

Although the use of extended technique was uncommon in the common practice period (c. 1600 - 1900), extended techniques are more common in modern classical music since about 1900. Extended techniques have also flourished in popular musics, which are typically less constrained by notions of "proper" technique than are traditional orchestral 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.

Most contemporary composers strive to explore the possibility of different instruments, cooperating with musicians in order to expand the "vocabulary" of given instruments. This undoubtedly increases the diversity of instrumental colors for contemporary pieces. However, some extended techniques are exceedingly difficult to master, or require instruments in uncommonly good condition; instruments are sometimes custom made to explore extended techniques.




String instruments


  • prepared piano, ie introducing foreign objects into the workings of the piano to change the sound quality
  • string piano, ie hitting or plucking the strings directly or any other direct manipulation of the strings
  • whistling, singing or talking into the piano
  • silently depressing one or more keys, allowing the corresponding strings to vibrate freely, thus creating a kind of reverb effect
  • percussive use of different parts of the piano, such as the outer rim
  • microtones
  • use of the palms of the hands or the fists—or indeed other body parts—to strike the keys
  • use of other materials to strike the keys

Woodwind or brass instruments


Other instruments

  • keyboard technique involving the fist, flat of hand, arm, or external device to create tone clusters
  • unusual harmonics, including multiphonics
  • glissandi, tuner glissando
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Playing the electric or bass guitar with a bow. See Bowed guitar

Notable composers

Notable performers










Drums and percussion


See also

Further reading

  • Stuart Dempster's The Modern Trombone: A Definition of Its Idioms, ISBN 0-520-03252-7.
  • Patricia and Allen Strange's The Contemporary Violin, ISBN 0-520-22409-4, and other books in The New Instrumentation series.
  • Bertram Turetzky's The Contemporary Contrabass ISBN 0-520-06381-3.
  • Michael Edward Edgerton's The 21st Century Voice, ISBN 0-8108-5354-X, and other books in The New Instrumentation series. Scarecrow Press, 2005.

External links

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