The secrets to successful trilling

By Robert Estrin

When I was in music conservatory, I remember the really advanced students would spend an inordinate amount of time working on trills. And in fact, it’s one aspect of my playing that I have developed further in the past year or so. I’m always discovering new things.

The most intrinsically important thing about trills is that they must be measured.

I know that when you hear a trill, it just sounds like a whole bunch of random notes. But if you don’t know exactly how many notes you’re playing in a trill, good luck ending it! You may not end up on the right note. You have a 50/50 chance of being on the right or the wrong note. So you have to figure out exactly how many notes you’re playing. So even though it sounds like a flurry of notes, the number of notes is worked out precisely. There are different ways to execute trills with different numbers of notes, but each one should be measured.

Today I’m going to give you a hack for your trills!

I recently performed a concert in New York. I played the Mozart Sonata K 457 in C minor. It’s loaded with trills! I wanted to execute those trills really cleanly, and I also wanted to play a good number of notes. You can always play an easier trill with fewer notes, but I didn’t want to do that. I started my program with this sonata, so I wanted to be rock solid on it. I figured out how to achieve very clean, faithful, and accurate trills. And it’s not just for trills like this, but virtually all ornamentation.

The secret is lifting up your fingers just a little bit instead of being right on the keys.

You want to lift up your finger just a little bit before you play the trill. That little bit of lifting articulates trills so wonderfully, you won’t believe it! Try it with your playing wherever you have trills. Lift your finger just before the trill, and you’ll get a clean trill. If your fingers don’t lift up, the notes may not play reliably. That’s the hardest part of a trill. The hardest part about piano playing and finger work isn’t so much the pushing down of the fingers, it’s the lifting up of previously played fingers. If you try to play a trill and the fingers don’t come up, the notes won’t play.

By lifting your fingers, you are certain that the fingers are up and out of the way, so the keys can replay.

The secret is to get the previously played fingers up and out of the way so the key is up and can go down again. It’s simple physics, really. So try lifting your fingers just before you play your trills and see how you get cleaner execution of ornamentation in your playing. I hope this works for you! 

Now watch my lesson.....