Tremolo

May 15, 2019, 5:19 PM · I got to visit my nephew last week!

My nephew, Hương Vinh Thành, is pretty much a prodigy. He can do nearly everything his old uncle can! However, at his recital, I heard him playing tremolo sooooooooooooooooo fast! And he was wearing a tank top, but there was absolutely no evidence of tension. He look so relaxed.

When I try tremolo, I just can’t make it any faster! What?!?!?! What is that sorcery that my nephew just possessed? How can I achieve it?

Replies (16)

May 15, 2019, 6:00 PM · Small motion. The less muscles used and the most relaxed state can lead to faster playing. He is probably using very small amounts of motion, just enough to achieve the sound allowing him to go faster without uneccisary inefficient motions.
May 15, 2019, 8:07 PM · Posture is also important. I imagine it would be easier with a high elbow and generally good stature.
May 16, 2019, 8:28 AM · Why don't you ask your nephew?
Edited: May 16, 2019, 8:48 AM · You don't need a high elbow to play a fast, relaxed tremolo but you do, as already noted, need to be using smaller muscles. It's very common for less proficient players to tense their arms all the way up to their shoulders and try to do tremolo that way, which does not work. It needs to come from the wrist and fingers, with a relaxed right arm.
May 16, 2019, 4:37 PM · Albrecht Zumbrunn

I did. He says that it is way too hard to explain.

May 17, 2019, 11:27 AM · I perform tremolo mainly by wrist motion (always have). Very little (if any) additional pronation (pivot of the forearm) is required for violin or viola tremolo bowing, but on cello, on which right-arm pronation is counter-productive for many of us, playing tremolo this way definitely requires additional pronation - but it's really no problem.
May 17, 2019, 5:15 PM · This is where playing first violin is easier than second.
It's easier if you rest your right wrist on your knee.You may need to cross your legs first.
Note :- only recommended on the third time or so in the same passage, and when you're getting bored.
May 17, 2019, 7:22 PM · Alright, here is a discovery.

I tried to to tremolo using only my forearm, and it sort of worked. It was like my nerves were doing it for me, and I need to only flex my forearm just a bit to start that motion. I could do it for a long, long time. I did not even need to tense up.

But I can do it at only 90 bpm on sixteenth notes, unlike my nephew who did it at 136 bpm sixteenth notes.

How do I make that reflex faster?

May 17, 2019, 7:43 PM · Use only your hand and wrist. Forearm is still too big a motion.
May 17, 2019, 10:54 PM · Maybe I'm wrong here, but I'd think a "tremolo" with 16th notes would be closer to 200 to 240 BPM. In other words more like 32nd notes at typical tempos (or worse).

What?

May 18, 2019, 10:36 AM · Maybe another way of thinking is: Use very little bow. Thinking that way may make it easier to use small muscles.
May 18, 2019, 10:44 PM · Do I speed it up uith the metronome or something?
May 18, 2019, 10:45 PM · Do I speed it up with the metronome or something?
May 21, 2019, 4:08 PM · I play tremolo with my wrist, keeping my arm stationary. (Except in that part of Schubert's 9th where I would use my arm to move the bow toward the frog to get ready for the long loud note that followed.)
May 22, 2019, 4:17 AM · Just going to further emphasise the point about being relaxed. Sometimes in orchestral parts there'll be two pages of tremolo, if you're tense it's not even worth trying!
Edited: May 23, 2019, 1:23 PM · I don't see it mentioned here, but there are very different tremolos for different situations.

Sometimes you want an aggressive, edgy tremolo played close to the bridge for tension (think Verdi). Typically uses the middle of the bow with lots of pressure.

But other times, it's just the opposite, the composer does NOT want the intense nervous quality -- Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Elgar write tremolos where they want a velvety, buttery quality. And to do that professional violin sections will alternative short strokes with long strokes, played in the upper half, with smooth bow change motion. (I learned the trick from a Philadelphia orchestra violinist). Individually the sound would be inconsistent, but with a whole section, it sounds great.

So if you practice tremolo, experiment with a variety of strokes and pressures -- lower bow, upper bow, close to bridge, close to fingerboard etc. Think of it like any other way to produce sound -- you want the sound that the music requires.

So if you're playing in a violin section, playing a "faster" tremolo isn't necessarily better. It just depends on what the conductor is aiming for.

As for the fatigue from playing long sections of tremolo, another pro trick (which comes from a retired Cleveland Orchestra violinist, who learned it from Gingold) is to angle the violin down slightly and allow your forearm or wrist to rest on your right thigh and tremolo with your wrist only. This is helpful with music like the Schubert "Great" which has endless long tremolo passages. I would never have thought it was OK, but if it was good enough for Gingold, that's good enough for me.


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