SUPER TRILLS in Swedish and Norweigan folk music

August 26, 2013 at 05:23 PM · I've been playing Swedish folk music a few years now, and it's going pretty well. There's one technique that really vexes me though, and it is that of trilling fast, like in these clips:

(approximately 29 seconds in and again 2 minutes in "FRRR!!!")

I've been trying to build my speed from the ground using a metronome, but it doesn't really seem to get me anywhere. On the other hand, I can sort of tense up my arm and just spam the fingerboard, which is usually quite successful yet - I'm guessing, quite the wrong approach, as I have no real control when I'm doing this.

I could work more on building speed with the metronome, but sometimes it feels like a big waste of time. I can do 16ths continually at a speed of 160 BPM, which has been my top speed for a good while now - and not even close to the tempo in these clips. Am I missing some other way of practicing trills in a fast and controlled fashion?

Replies (7)

August 26, 2013 at 06:11 PM · i can only do it with my middle finger - it's like a spasm.

August 26, 2013 at 07:25 PM · Relaxation is the key.

August 26, 2013 at 08:41 PM · Here's a hint: don't trill by lifting your fingers up and down.

Find another part of your arm/hand system that can oscillate back and forth very quickly with little effort...the motion might actually be more rotational than straight line.

August 26, 2013 at 09:37 PM · In the Irish folk music that I'm still involved in, trills (and other ornaments, one or two of which have no real equivalent in classical music) tend to be very quick - possibly quicker than what you would hear in most classical playing. My way of doing it, for what it's worth, is to have a really relaxed left hand and then the trill (or other ornament) feels as light as a butterfly fluttering its wings. I don't try to press the string right down - that slows things, causes tension and is tiring in the long run - a light touch, just enough to sound the note, is generally all that is required. This applies to any finger that is trilling, including the fourth. Such a trill can be kept going indefinitely, as is sometimes required in classical music. Remember that the finger behind the trilling finger similarly doesn't need to press the string down hard.

It is important to position the left hand so that the fingers are bent as if you're holding a tennis ball and the end of each finger drops down vertically onto the string - rather like a trained pianist's hand position on the keyboard. A finger that is relatively flat as it approaches the string is more difficult to move fast - think of the leverage involved.

I don't recommend the "tension" way of doing trills, even though it can sound effective. I feel sure it will cause problems eventually because it is teaching certain muscle groups to be tense when they shouldn't be.

Incidentally, when playing classical I have to be careful some of the time not to use Irish style ornamentation by mistake! This is probably because I was playing Irish fiddle long before I went over to classical, and some old habits die hard.

August 26, 2013 at 09:42 PM · Trill? That second guy in the video either had the worst wolf note I've ever heard, or he'd been drinking too much Absolut the night before...

Seriously though. I don't know about trills on the violin, but here is my belief. You won't hit maximum oscillations of finger, hand, arm, leg, etc., for any activity, by turning the muscles on and off for each direction. Rather, you tense both sets of muscles to hold the body part rigid. Then the part becomes something like a mass held by a spring of a certain stiffness, which you then vibrate. I have not read anything scientific about this, so it's a little speculative. I've discussed it with a physicist friend re tremolo on the piano, and other things, but really I'm out of my area (mathematics). It looked to me like the second player was doing this with either his hand, or several fingers tensed together. I would give this a shot. If after a month of practice you don't get anywhere then I would try another shot... of Absolut!

August 29, 2013 at 08:27 AM · @John Cadd

I've similar advice before - to focus on the lifting of the finger rather than the pressing down - but I've never been sure how to interpret it. Are there any exercises to do which focus on the lifting movement?

Also, anatomy-wise, where are the fingers' lifting muscles, if not also in the wrist? How do I make these muscles strong and supple? When I play around on a flute, I seem to be able to trill with my right hand at double the speed I can trill with my left, without ever even practicing my right hand. I feel my focus should be getting my left hand stronger.

August 29, 2013 at 01:56 PM · If you look at the synopsis of Peer Gynt, you'll find there may be an issue with super trolls as well.

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