4 slashes through a note?

December 10, 2017, 7:04 PM · In Dvorak Symphony No. 9, there are multiple notes in the beginning that seem to have 4 slashes through the note stem rather than 3 (which means tremolo). What does it mean? Is it just a more intense tremolo?

Replies (23)

December 10, 2017, 7:09 PM · I'd read that as un-metered tremolo, but I've never played Dvorak 9.
December 10, 2017, 7:23 PM · Technically the number of slashes through the note indicates the frequency to repeat the note. But in common use, most use the three slashes as up to the performer (or as fast as possible). Here the frequency is delineated as 4/note.
December 10, 2017, 10:07 PM · It just means tremolo. You are overthinking this.

December 11, 2017, 11:43 AM · I recently found myself required to play a passage in a contemporary choral work (no names but the composer is a knight of the realm) in which every note stem carried six slashes. Measured or not, the most any player could have managed was about three!
December 11, 2017, 12:00 PM · You bring up something that has bothered me for a while. I have always wondered about those slashes.

I learned originally that for each slash, you essentially half the note. So for a quarter note 1/4, one slash on it means you play eighth 1/8, two slashes, 16ths 1/16, etc.

And then you play it measured according to the rules I outlined or tremolo according to the history of the piece (which seems kind of unclear and arbitrarily to me). But I have seen all sorts of variation or maybe I have it all wrong.

Does anyone have a definitive rule on this?

Edited: December 11, 2017, 1:32 PM · Three slashes on a quarter note stem generally indicate tremolo, except when they indicate 32nd notes. Ideally context makes it clear which is desired, but a frequent question in rehearsal is, "measured or tremolo?"

December 11, 2017, 3:13 PM · Steve, composers don't always have the physicalities of playing a musical instrument to the forefront of their mind - being a Knight of the Realm (I think I can guess who this is, or am I thinking of a CBE?) is no guarantee otherwise!

December 11, 2017, 3:39 PM · Mary Ellen, how about 3 slashes on a half note or a whole note - how would you play those?
December 11, 2017, 4:25 PM · Tremolo. Those are actually less ambiguous.
Edited: December 11, 2017, 8:02 PM · I played a lot of pit orchestras when I was in high school. We always hated the long tremolo passages. Really tires you out fast. Here is how you interpret this:

3 slashes: Tremolo
4 slashes: Tremolo!
6 slashes: For God's sake, tremolo!!!

Edited: December 12, 2017, 1:32 AM · Trevor - a small clue; it wasn't Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Dvorak uses tremolo a lot in his symphonies as a kind of musical "filler"; I'm particularly thinking about the poor violas (probably the seconds too) in No 8. Of course, everybody knows that the way to get a viola player to play a passage tremolando is to mark it "solo"

December 12, 2017, 5:38 AM · Maybe he originally put 3 slashes on the note for tremolo, then changed his mind and put a slash through it. I don't think Dvorak used White-Out.
Edited: December 16, 2017, 1:35 AM · Four slashes through a note (if the note is a whole, half, or quarter note, mean to make 64ths out of it. Each slash is the same as a flag or a beam. If the note the four slashes are attached to were to be an eighth note, then one would make 128ths out of it (the flag being one flag and the four slashes being four more (1+4=5 flags = 128th notes). In faster tempos 3 slashes USUALLY means tremolo; however, in slower tempos it can mean measures 32nds. It depends on the piece and the tempo. In the Dvorak "New World" 2nd movement, the slashes represent measured notes and NOT tremolos. In the first movement, the four slashes represent 64th notes. This can be confirmed by the viola part in m. 15 where the violas 4 slashes between two half note heads in a 4/8 measure have a 32 written above it, meaning to play 32 measured 64th notes alternating between the two pitches in a wide-pitched measured 64th-note trill.
December 16, 2017, 7:32 AM · May I respectfully suggest that a conductor instructing an orchestra to play 64th notes in the opening of the Dvorak New World (the measures that prompted the original post) will be laughed off the podium. At the resulting speed, trying to measure the notes is ridiculous. It is tremolo.

Source: 33 years of playing in professional orchestras, and way, way too many performances of New World.

Edited: December 16, 2017, 10:37 AM · hi Jessie, I take it you are referring to the initial Adagio part. don't forget that it has a rather slow beat and is notated in 8ths. in this particular context 32nd notes are not that fast. so to denote a tremolo you would need at least four slashes.
Edited: December 16, 2017, 11:28 AM · I just checked three performances on YouTube. The first three that you get are NYPhil with Alan Gilbert; Berliner Philharmoniker with von Karajan; and Muenchner Philharmoniker with Celibidache. The first two play tremelo but Celibidache takes a much slower tempo and they play it measured.
December 16, 2017, 10:49 AM · Four slashes at sixteenth=126 means about eight notes per second - surely not too fast to be measured? It's in the second half of m.17 where I feel the violas' pain...
Edited: December 16, 2017, 4:05 PM · I read somewhere that the upper limit for very fast coordinated and controlled muscle movement is somewhere in the region of 16 contractions per second. Can anyone confirm this? The fastest clean (that is important!) performances of the Paganini Moto Perpetuo seem to be slightly less than 16 notes/sec, and the top pianists don't seem to get much beyond that, either - obviously excluding techniques such as glissandi.

When assessing speed from audio or video one should be aware that speeds on recordings can be enhanced, either deliberately or otherwise. An increased speed of a recording may not be obvious if the pitch hasn't risen correspondingly, a trick that is not difficult to achieve with today's digital technology, and which, if not audible to most listeners could presumably be detected by forensic audio analysis.

In the old days of LPs made from tape masters it was not unknown for a recording studio to speed up a recording in order to get it comfortably on to both sides of an LP. In pre-digital days the indication of this would be an increase in pitch, and possibly a vibrato that did not sound quite right. An example of this that I have is the 1968 Supraphon LP SUA ST 50916 of Beethoven's Quartets Op 74 and 95, performed by the Prague Quartet. I calculate that the recording had been speeded up by 6% to get both pieces on to the LP without distortion. If you're not aware of the change in pitch, the give-away was a vibrato which is just a shade too fast. I think we may be sure that the Prague Quartet was unaware at the time of these post-recording goings-on!

December 16, 2017, 3:35 PM · Blame the composer, blame the publisher, blame the engraver,... The idea that any human can articulate the bow at that speed is laughable. It's all tremolo. But, you can always show this to a non string player simply to impress them with how difficult your music really is.

Perhaps Tomita could program his computer to actually produce accurate 128th notes.

Edited: December 17, 2017, 2:56 AM · Can violinists play faster than pianists? I'm thinking of distinct, non-repetitive note patterns rather than tremolo which could be seen as kind of voluntary physiologic tremor. Chopin's "Black Key" Etude and the coda of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata must be strong contenders but I haven't heard many performances that achieve more than about 12 notes/s. Physiologic tremor is described as "usually" about 10/sec, which if you are oscillating between two notes could give you 20/s!
December 19, 2017, 1:50 PM · It depends on the tempo. I've played one or two pieces where the tempo was slow enough that I could play notes with three slashes as measured. Most of the time, though, three slashes is fast enough to mean tremolo. Four slashes... well, I'd guess that the composer isn't taking any chances, and is telling the players to go like hell.
Edited: December 22, 2017, 5:54 PM · @Maey Ellen Goree: I have both played and conducted the Dvorak New World numerous times. As a player (violist), I play the 4 slashes in the first movement as measured 64ths as indicated. In the slow movement the 3 slashes are played as measured 32nds. As a conductor, I ask my players to play measured 64ths and measured 32nds. It DOES take a little bit of rehearsal for the players to control their bows and get the right sound and precision. I have even done it successfully with a high school orchestra.
December 22, 2017, 9:41 PM · Ah--just looked at the part--I was thinking of the Allegro Molto. My apologies. Yes, the Adagio can be measured although that still seems excessively fussy to me.

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