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 (30)

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.

May 24, 2019, 9:16 PM · Alright, the reason shy I want a fast, fast tremolo is because it is the only logical route to up bow staccato.

Only if I could make my hand faster!!!!!

May 24, 2019, 9:16 PM · Alright, the reason shy I want a fast, fast tremolo is because it is the only logical route to up bow staccato.

Only if I could make my hand faster!!!!!

June 3, 2019, 11:43 AM · Alright, I accept it.

I can’t do it fast.

I never will.

I cannot get a tremolo for up bow staccato.

Truth is, this fast stuff is born, not created.

Thank you very, very much for your suggestions.

It is just something that is beyond my abilities.

June 3, 2019, 11:45 AM · My nephew will zoom right above his uncle, because his uncle can’t do tremolo. He is truly talented.
Edited: June 3, 2019, 1:38 PM · Uh... again, how exactly are you trying to play tremolo? The motion needs to be extremely small. This is not something that requires tremendous talent, this is a basic technique used all the time in lower-intermediate level amateur orchestras. Again, the motion should mainly come from the hand and wrist, with only minimal forearm movement. For very fast tremolo, there may be no forearm movement at all.
June 3, 2019, 3:20 PM · I think my whole arm is too tense like Mary Ellen mentioned, I'm having no luck with vibrato with no shoulder rest. It moves all over the place
June 3, 2019, 3:26 PM · Up-bow staccato and tremelo are not the same technique. Like...at all...they are quite different in execution.
June 3, 2019, 3:30 PM · Jeffrey Leavitt: tremolo and vibrato are not the same thing. Tremolo is a bowing technique.
June 3, 2019, 4:00 PM · RTY - Put your wrist on a table in front of you. How many taps with your first 2 fingers can you per second can you do? Whatever that is, your tremolo, if performed similarly, could about 30% faster.
June 4, 2019, 11:33 AM · Haha, sorry about that people. I just got so triggered about tremolo yesterday.

I play tremolo with my wrist; I sometimes play it with my forearm.

June 4, 2019, 1:47 PM · That is the correct way to do it. Sometimes you need a very soft gentle tremolo near the tip, sometimes you need to really go at it with your whole arm. It really all depends on the piece your playing and maestro.
June 4, 2019, 1:49 PM · Andrew, I bet you can't tell I'm a rookie :)
June 5, 2019, 2:04 PM · Alright, I guess I can do tremolo, but I am trying to gain in speed.

My tremolo speed is only 140 bpm in sixteenth notes and I cam tell, that is soooooooooooooo slow!
Slower than molasses!
I want a fast tremolo like 240 bpm sixteenth notes so that it sounds more like a tremolo and so that I can take a better approach to Up bow staccato.

So how do I speed it up?

June 5, 2019, 2:06 PM · James T

Well, if you see Ray Chen’s tutorial on Up Bow staccato, you see that he instructs to do a tremolo and move up bow.

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