This is the final post in my short series on trills. I am going to share with you some exercises to develop speed and fluency, as well as a neat tip for slowing down videos on YouTube so you can listen in very slow motion. This is great if you want to research how different pianists handle trills (and indeed anything else), but more on this later.

Trill Exercises

The following exercises are in no particular order. I suggest trying them out and finding those that suit you best. From a mechanical point of view, you might want to experience the trill in these ways:

  • from the finger (active finger, and then keeping the finger inside the keys)
  • powered by forearm rotation (the equivalent of power-assisted steering)

Repeated Note

I’m using as my example a trill between the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the RH, but this whole series of exercises can be applied to other combinations of fingers. Hold onto one finger of the trill and play the other finger (a repeated note) from the escapement, without lifting the key all the way back up to the top between the repetitions. It will feel like you are at the bottom of the key; there won’t be any gap in sound between the repeated notes because you are effectively tying one note to the next. Start slowly and build up speed. Next, try holding the finger you have just been playing and play the finger you have just been holding.

trill 1

The first exercise is done freely; in the next one we’re going to do it rhythmically. It can be useful to feel the rhythm of the finger that plays on the beat in a measured trill when putting the hands together. In this example from Mozart’s C major Sonata, K. 545, I’m going to assume an upper note start to the trill and a demisemiquaver (32nd note) rate (although there are other ways to do it).

trill 2

In last week’s post I explained that a gentle undulation in the arm (almost imperceptible) will keep us from tightening up. When I play repeated notes, I sense that I am playing each repetition on a different part of the key surface so it is most important we don’t become rigid – mobility in the hand and arm is crucial! When we are holding on to a key, we should be free to slide up and down the length of it. So, hold the A very lightly and play the B’s that coincide with the LH Alberti bass (including the G from the termination at the end).

trill 3

Mozart’s Trill Exercise

Mozart himself used the following exercise for equality of all pairs of adjacent fingers. Use a metronome to check consistency of tempo, and practise at a variety of different tempos.

trill 4

Practise this exercise not only in C major but also using various combinations of black and white keys. You can develop this into a transposing exercise, with trills a semitone then a whole tone apart. As with the other exercises and suggestions, make sure to practise it in the LH as well.

trill 5

Build Up Speed

Build up speed gradually and systematically, in a strictly measured way. Start off slowly, following this rhythmic design. Again, a metronome is a useful tool to make sure you keep the pulse.

trill 7

You can also build up the trill in increasing groups. Start off with the smallest cell of three notes, then increase to five, seven, and so on. The fast notes should be up to speed; you may pause on the long notes as long as necessary to check you are loose and free before playing the group.
trill 8

The YouTube Trick

Some of you are no doubt aware of how you can slow down the audio on YouTube so you can discover exactly how many notes different pianists put in their trills. It’s great research to compare the various approaches. On the lower right hand side of the video screen you’ll notice a few buttons, including the cog-shaped settings button. If you click on that, you’ll find an option labelled “speed”. Click on that, and you’ll notice you can change to half speed (0.5) or a quarter speed (0.25).

Here’s a video explaining it all.

Why not try it out with a trill such as the opening of the C sharp minor Nocturne of Chopin? Here are a few different videos to explore.

Vladimir Ashkenazy

Wladyslaw Szpilman

Yundi Li

Claudio Arrau

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Practising the Piano will be on holiday for the next couple of weeks. May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Thank you for your support and your comments over the past year – there is much more to come in 2017!

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