Exercises to Improve Your Trills

Some of my students - - especially adults, who feel their dexterity is not all they wish it were and ask for some exercises to improve it - - need exercises strictly for trilling. Perhaps you do, too?

Many of the Hanon exercises do help, but usually something very specific is needed. Here are things I suggest.

Practice the physical motion when away from the piano. While stuck in traffic is a good time! Make sure you use each pair of fingers and give attention to each hand, more time devoted to the non-dominant hand. The hands must be equally facile to be successful with literature calling for trills. Your efforts will be handsomely rewarded particularly with Bach and French baroque composers, but you'll see benefits with Mozart and Beethoven (I'm thinking here of some of those measure-long trills in Mozart and the quick trills needed for the first movement of Beethoven's Pathétique).

Now let's go to the keyboard. This first exercise is attributed to Mozart.

With the LH, all on the same pair of adjacent notes, begin trilling with fingers 5/4. Strive for evenness of tempo and dynamics. *Work only at the speed you can be in absolute total control! No faster!!*

Without stopping, change to 5/3, then to 4/3, and so on until you arrive at 1/2. Then work your way back down to 5/4. The listener should not be able to tell where you change fingers. It's very useful in this exercise to record your playing and listen to whether your trills were nice and even. To make it more of a challenge to ferret out any unevenness while listening to your recording, vary the number of repercussions you do on each finger combination.

Do the same with the RH. Then put hands together, first matching finger numbers (both hands start 5/4, for example) and then not matching (LH starts 5/4 and RH starts 1/2). Ifg you like, match "different" sets, such as LH 3/4 and RH 1/2).

This next exercise I got from my bassoon teacher in college. (Yes, I did perpetrate some notes on bassoon. It was *not* a pleasant listening experience. But that's another story!) He had me do this for breath control on a single note, but the idea works very nicely for better trill control on the piano! These I call "trill drives".

With a finger combination (say 2/3), start trilling slowly and then speed up and slow down again. Do all finger combinations and work each hand separately. Then put hands together. For a real challenge, have one hand start slowly, speed up, and slow down while the other hand simultaneously does the opposite!

You can do the same thing with dynamics. Or, combine speed and dynamics. Use this exercise with all finger combinations, starting hands apart.

Another type of exercise uses the metronome. Set it at some comfortable speed such as 63. Do one repercussion (hands together) per tick. A repercussion is a repetition of the two trill notes (for example: G to F#). When this is mastered, do two repercussions per tick; then four. Then setthe metronome to a faster speed and repeat. This exercise is especially good for Bach's 2-part inventions #3 and #4.

Note that all these exercises are based on using adjacent fingers. Some students prefer other combinations, such as 1/3 or 1/3/2/3 (where 1 and 2 are playing the same pitch). Find what works best for your hand. Everyone's hand is different.

I call this the "Russian" trill exercise (it purportedly is from the technical battery of a Russian conservatory): play only one repercussion at finished speed. When this is easy, make it two repercussions. And so on until you have about 8. (A repercussion is one two-note group.)

Last, *use* ornaments. Being able to toss them off effortlessly is a real boost to your confidence! If you are not already doing so, ask your teacher for literature which calls for lots of trills (and other ornaments). Bach is always good. I always start my students on the Twelve Little Preludes. Lots of challenge there! And of course there's the famous pair of long trills in the two-part invention #4! You will be glad you spent extra time on your LH trills! Also try Couperin, Rameau, Dandrieu, D'Angelbert, Daquin, Lebègue, Clérambeault, composers from the English virginalist school (Byrd and Bull in particular, as well as the anonymous pieces from The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), and English Baroque composers (Purcell, Clarke). And don't forget Mozart and Chopin!

You might be interested in other material here on Baroque ornamentation and how to interpret ornament marks in Mozart's "Rondo alla turca" (K. 331). copyright 1996-2002, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.


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