It’s amazing how music can capture through sound some of the extraordinary elements of
life we witness around us.
Some of these elements – like the fluttering of a bird’s wing, the blowing of wind, the trembling of an
earthquake, or the shaking of a nervous hand – are imitated in music using unique techniques called trills and
These sounds are actually relatively easier to produce on piano than on other instruments, but that does not
make them easy.
Piano trills and tremolos are among one of the more unique and flexible sounds in music, and it is important
that pianists are aware of the appropriate technique to perform them. In this free piano lesson, we are going to show you how.
A trill on the piano is sound produced when a player rapidly alternates striking two keys. For example, he may
play D and E very quickly, switching between the two notes for a specified duration. Normally, the trill is played
by using the second and third finger.
These two fingers are the hand’s strongest (aside from the awkward thumb) and are therefore the best two for
performing this skill; however, there are many instances (like is Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata) when the situation
requires two other fingers to produce the trill. While it is extremely different to make a trill with weaker
fingers, enough training at this technique will build muscle and make this entirely possible.
Trills are normally noted in music by drawing a waving line horizontally above a note or writing the letters tr
above a note. This means that whichever note has this line above it, the appropriate notes to perform the trill on
are the written note and the note on the same scale immediately above it.
So if a C has a wavy line or tr above it, that means to rapidly alternate playing
notes C and D. Sometimes it is appropriate for a note to end with a turn, or the playing of additional notes
that end the trill.
If playing a trill on C and D, one could flourish the ending by quickly playing B, C, D. This technique is known
as an appoggiatura. Trill lasts as long as the written note’s rhythm indicates, and frequently the waving line
above it will stretch as long as its intended duration as well.
Tremolos are similar to trills in that it is two notes rapidly alternating from one another, but in tremolos
these notes are not immediately next to one another. While a trill might be played on notes C and D with the second
and third fingers, a tremolo may be played on, say, C and G, with the thumb and pinky effective this
Any interval larger than a whole step qualifies as a tremolo. Normally, tremolos are noted differently than
trills, too. Instead of a wavy line above the note, tremolos feature two notes spaced apart with three thick,
straight lines connecting them.
These three lines indicate that the performer should rapidly alternate between the two written notes for the
duration that both notes’ rhythm indicates. So if a measure has a C and G written as two whole notes separated by
three thick lines, then a tremolo should be played for the entire measure.
Trills and tremolos can create unique effects that require the fingers to flutter in the same way that the
musical effect flutters to the ear of the listener. Playing both of these skills requires different techniques,
much speed, and impressive muscle control. However, like all other piano skills, piano trills and tremolos
are obtainable with enough practice!
The material in this site is intended to be of general informational use.
Although every attempt has been made to make information as accurate as possible, we are not responsible for
any errors that may appear.