Q&A MONTH: I need help with my trills!

24 February 2017
Unknown-3-74876.jpeg Q&A
Throughout this month, we answer piano-playing questions.

I shy away from pieces that contain trills! I feel I haven’t got the right technique so I avoid them. Can you help?

Playing trills requires the use of two basic techniques. Some trills require a straight-forward finger action, while others require some kind of wrist rotation. For extended or loud trills, you often want to combine both. As every hand is different, some people find playing trills with some fingers easier than others. However, it’s always useful to be able to practise with different fingers. The most common fingering for a simple trill might be 2-3-2, but you should be able to play comfortably with any ‘next door’ fingers as well as a range of fingering like 2-3-1, for example, or 1-3-2-3. The pianist’s repertoire is full of trills both short and long (Chopin’s nocturnes are full of them, as are Beethoven sonatas, movements from Bach Partitas and Haydn’s F minor variations), but no matter what the ornament, the principle is more or less the same.


Playing successful trills (no matter how short or long) will be determined by the correct fingering and by making sure your hand and wrist are as relaxed as possible. For a long trill, it’s quite easy to build up lots of tension, so always concentrate on feeling as free and as supple as possible, thinking of the movements of the fingers and the subsequent sound they make. For starters, always begin with the shortest trill possible and then work out from this. Giving the first note a slight accent will start the trill off, and then make it easier to keep up a good sense of rhythm. If, say, you are playing C-D-C for example, accent the Cs for every group of 3 notes in a kind of triplet fashion. The fingers want to be raised slowly after each note, making precise movements, until you get a good sense of flow. Once you can manage three notes successfully, move onto four and so on (C-D-C-D, then C-D-C-D-C etc), remembering always to accent the first note of every rhythmic group and always thinking of relaxing.


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Some pianos are more sensitive than others, so that it’s possible to play really beautiful, even trills without the key going right down to the bottom. Again, this takes practice, a keen ear and subtle control, so practising on different piano actions helps. For more specific exercise regimes, take a look at the wealth of technical books like Hanon or Czerny, as there are lots of useful tips out there. 


Tim Stein