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Piano Techniques: How to Play Trills on the Piano? - Practicing Trills

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Published on Apr 7, 2013

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I've had quite a few people recently asking me for tips on how to play trills. It's no easy task - or is it? This video and article will provide a few tips and techniques you can use to help master trills.

The first thing to do is make sure you play your trills with minimal arm weight. If you've watched some of my other technique videos you know that I emphasize arm weight as a very big component in tone production -- especially when it comes to slower melodies. The challenge with trills is playing lightly, almost floating your hand above the keys to allow the notes to flow with minimal effort.

The next thing in playing trills is keeping your fingers very close to the keys. Trills are played so fast that there is not a lot of time for movement, so it's best to keep your fingers very close to the keys -- so close you remain in contact with the keys!

Another thing is to make sure your fingers are rounded. It's nearly impossible to play fast with outstretched fingers; keeping them rounded will help improve speed dramatically allowing more than just one joint to execute the trill. These are some of the most important aspects when it comes to hand position.

However, there is something fundamental about approaching trills. Even if it sounds like just a bunch of notes, you need to figure out exactly how many notes you are playing as if it's written out. Learn trills like you would learn any other fast passage in your music working with the metronome increasing one notch at a time as you gain confidence.

Another big question is how to know how many notes to play in a trill. One valuable technique that I use frequently is to play just one note of the trill. For example, if you are playing a trill and starting on the upper note, just play that upper note. You will get an idea of how fast you can play the trill by only playing one note of the trill first, either the top note or the bottom note - whichever one you are starting the trill on.

This brings up an important subject in trills, what note does it start on? This could really be a subject for an entirely separate video but I am going to provide some basic information here. As trills are written, you will usually start on the auxiliary (the note above the written note of the trill; the next note in the scale of that key). For example, if you have a piece in C major and you have a D trill, you would start on E.

Can you start a trill on the note written? For example, if it's written as a D can you start on a D and move up to E? Yes; it depends on the context. There are different schools of thought on this but generally I would say a trill is basically a long appoggiatura (a non-chord tone resolving into the harmony). So starting on the auxiliary generally makes musical sense. However, in different period styles and in shorter trills, use your judgement as to what sounds best and what you can execute with confidence.

The last thing I want to address with trills is one of the biggest challenges; how to end them! If you don't know exactly where you are it can be difficult to end them smoothly. The good news is there is a great practice technique for this.

I always like to play the trill right up to the point before it ends; and then stop in a relaxed manner over the keys. Keep doing that until you have a good grasp on where you will be right before the last notes of the trill. Keep playing that passage over and over and eventually add the last notes of the trill. But don't play them right away; pause in a relaxed manner before you play the last notes. At first, make the pause as long as you need it; eventually make the duration of the pause smaller and smaller; until the pause is imperceptible to the listener but guides the ending of the trill for you!

Thanks again for watching and reading. I enjoy bringing these videos to you and am planning more of them for you. So please, send in any questions or suggestions to me, Robert Estrin: Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

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