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Playing Trills


how to play in tune on a violin

Being able to play trills confidently will enhance any musical performance. 

There are 4 different aspects the player will need to be aware of before executing a trill successfully:

  • The speed
  • The clarity
  • The start of the trill
  • The end of the trill

Before we can begin to think about playing trills, the position of the left hand will need to be well-established and reasonably relaxed. Fingers will need to hover above the strings, even before playing trills, and the fingers will need to play on their fingertips.

Depending on the style of the music, trills can be played faster or slower, but they have to be even in pace in order to sound good. Practise playing trills picking up the trilling finger from the base knuckle where the finger is attached to the hand. Pick up your finger as high as possible initially, to develop strength. Practise with a with a metronome to check for evenness. If the trill is very uneven, you may practise rhythms to increase control.

Practising trills with different rhythms will not only improve the speed. It will also improve the clarity of the trill. Try to relax the held-down finger whilst playing trills will increase clarity too. Bear in mind that a trill, unless it appears in extremely fast music, should not be played too fast. There is a risk that a trill which is played too fast can sound like a note out of tune.

We tend to think only about the left hand when practising trills, but a good trill will also require a well-developed bowing technique. When we trill a note with the left hand, the string will shake a bit, and the bow will need to grip the string a little firmer to create a good tone quality. Moving the bow towards the bridge slightly will enhance the tone quality in trills too.

Books have been written about how to execute trills in different styles of classical music. Many composers indicate in the music how the trill is to be performed: starting with an appoggiatura or acciaccatura, starting on the beat of before the beat. Sometimes there is an indication in the music about the number of shakes a trill should include and also how the trill should be finished, with or without the two little notes at the end. As a general rule however, one can say that a trill in the Baroque period will usually start on the upper note.

There are of course many different types of trills: trills, turns, upper and lower mordents and so on and to get an idea of the many possible executions of trills, it may be interesting to listen to various harpsichord sonatas, which will give the player a choice of many possible decorations.

For detailed advice on how to play trills in a specific piece of music that you are learning, please contact the team at Pro-Am Strings for further information.


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