How to play this tremolo

Edited: January 28, 2023, 9:20 PM · We don't have any Paganinis in our orchestra... anyone know a secret for playing this? Maybe with harmonics? Or are we actually supposed to cross strings? It's found in m.230 of the Brubaker arrangement of "Concert Suite from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".

Replies (37)

Edited: January 28, 2023, 10:23 AM · Thanks to a missing quotation mark in my HTML markup, that image didn't post correctly and the EDIT link isn't selectable for me. It's a slurred tremolo between D5 and D6.

Edited: January 28, 2023, 12:34 PM · They are 32nd notes, third position first finger on the A string 4th finger on the E string and then it's all string crossings in the bow hand with the left hand fingers kept in place. I would probably ignore the slur.

If it's a viola (and alto clef), then it's first position D and A strings but same fingering and bowing.

AND PLEASE ADD A TITLE so others can access it!

January 28, 2023, 11:12 AM · There was a title, but thanks to my typo in the HTML markup that was missing a quotation mark, I'm now unable to edit it.
January 28, 2023, 5:56 PM · I have sent a note to Laurie to have this tech issue fixed.
January 28, 2023, 9:17 PM · Thanks! Fixed.
Edited: January 28, 2023, 9:37 PM · Yeah, you're supposed to cross strings. Don't worry too much about playing it quickly or evenly. A whole section going back and forth between those notes will produce the desired effect, even if it feels awkward as an individual player.
January 29, 2023, 3:30 AM · Pace Andrew V, I wouldn't ignore the slur! As fast as you reasonably can but it's probably in pianissimo so you'll hardly be heard anyway.
Edited: January 29, 2023, 10:27 AM · Without seriously suggesting it, later in the day I'll try them as harmonics on the D string.

Well, that was a stupid idea!


The only thing I could achieve, assuming it wasn't slow music, was to double-stop and tremolo it. Then I came back to the pc and noticed that you've used the word tremolo in the title, so maybe you've answered your own question?

January 29, 2023, 2:07 PM · It's just an effect anyway, and, indeed, if it's written slurred it's meant to be slurred, quickly alternating the bow between the two strings (basically you "almost" play a double stop on both strings, then with just the wrist you just wave between the two strings, as it were).
January 29, 2023, 3:24 PM · This makes no sense, IMHO. Your best bet is to let your stand partner play one of the notes as repeated 32nd notes and you play the other as 32nd notes. It will sound like a chord, unless the tempo is Largo or Grave having each violinist play both notes will make the section sound like some sort of drone because it will be difficult for everyone to play together. Good luck!
January 29, 2023, 6:11 PM · This is another example of how the divisi concept can help the section sound good without extra fussing by each player. Inside player can do triplets. Outside player can do sixteenths. Second stand can start on the top note instead of the lower note, etc. The combined mess will sound like the shimmer effect that the composer might want.
January 29, 2023, 6:48 PM · We have a very similar passage in the violins in the 3rd movement of the "Concerto for Two Flutes" by Cimarosa that our chamber orchestra has been working on for an upcoming concert. In our piece the "tremolo" is (mostly) in thirds and not slurred.
January 30, 2023, 1:34 AM · Sorry Tom but I believe Jean is absolutely correct. It's a fairly common notation for a quiet shimmering effect that would present no technical problem if the two notes were on the same string. Best not to overthink it.
January 30, 2023, 7:01 AM · @Steve - I have no problem doing this sort of tremolo if both notes are on the same string. Changing strings is what makes it problematic.
January 30, 2023, 10:09 AM · The awkwardness is part of the effect; it's supposed to sound a bit unstable and it will when played in a section as unmeasured tremolo. It's not as if composers don't know how to write an octave divisi.
January 30, 2023, 1:37 PM · It's a double-stop with a wavy forearm.
January 30, 2023, 6:18 PM · @Andrew - I see this tremolo as sounding like a background drone. Is that what you mean by sounding "a bit unstable?"
January 30, 2023, 9:23 PM · Take a cue from the cellists: Thumb position.
Edited: January 31, 2023, 2:29 AM · What I mean is that it shouldn't sound like a smooth tremolo on both notes, which is what you get if you play it as octave divisi. The shimmering effect comes from the unevenness of the whole section's bows going back and forth between the two strings. That's the reason Joel suggests having different people play it in different rhythms.
January 31, 2023, 9:49 AM · @Andrew - I see what you mean. However, your "shimmering effect" is what I mean by a "background drone."
January 31, 2023, 12:10 PM · Surely this is a trill, not a tremolo?
January 31, 2023, 3:09 PM · @Mary Ellen - my understanding of the notation is that you play the two notes in sequence over and over again very fast, unless the stated tempo is Largo or something like that. These are 32nd notes played for a whole measure. The OP does not tell us who the composer is or what the tempo is, but it is hard for me to see how a violin section playing these will not sound like a background drone (or maybe a "shimmering effect"as Andrew would describe it). Just my $0.02.
January 31, 2023, 3:30 PM · Arranger is Jerry Brubaker, tempo isn't really marked, but it follows a ritenuendo. Dynamics start around mezzo-forte, increasing to forte. Style is "very broadly". Every video I can find has the first violinists crossing strings, making it much a much slower tremolo than the 32nds that are marked.
Edited: January 31, 2023, 4:08 PM · “@Mary Ellen - my understanding of the notation is that you play the two notes in sequence over and over again very fast”

Yes, of course you do, but you do not simultaneously change the bow very fast as in a tremolo. You play it under slurs.

January 31, 2023, 5:24 PM · @Mary Ellen - even slurring the two notes, you have to change strings repeatedly. I am not the world's greatest violinist, but doing this does not look that easy to me. So, I suspect that with a section playing, people will not be totally in sync and will sound like a background drone for this reason. I may be wrong, but, ....
Edited: January 31, 2023, 6:46 PM · That isn’t my point, of course it’s not easy.

My point is that tremolo refers to a very specific extremely fast repeatedly articulated bow stroke, which is not used in this example.

January 31, 2023, 8:41 PM · @Mary Ellen - your point is well-taken. You are correct that this figure is not tremolo. I am not sure what it is called technically, although you may know. All I am really trying to do is describe what the effect of playing this figure might be. I apologize if I missed your point.
January 31, 2023, 10:36 PM · Technique: Be in the middle third of the bow, near the balance point. Right elbow at the double stop string level. Flap the right hand up and down rapidly, from the wrist, like a butterfly wing.
Edited: February 1, 2023, 2:10 AM · By the way Rob, it doesn't have to be 32nd exactly. It's an effect, just something the composer (or arranger) writes to indicate what they want. While this is a trill and not a tremolo (see above :-) the same situation exists in tremolo which is also often indicated as 32nds (with three "flags"), or in fast tempi as 16ths (two flags), but nobody tries to count it that way and do a tremolo of rhythmically exact 32nd or 16th notes. The conductor may sometimes ask to speed up or slow down the trill or tremolo. If they don't complain, you're doing it OK :-)
February 1, 2023, 2:16 AM · Most conductors will be equally uncertain about what exactly the violinists should do here. The composer/arranger has indicated a cloudy shimmer of some sort, and may not be much clearer about the method or mechanics than we are.
February 1, 2023, 7:47 AM · Good points, Richard!
February 1, 2023, 8:32 PM · For what it's worth, "tremolo" is a broad category... it simply means the notes change back and forth rapidly. "Bowed tremolo" is what we violinists usually mean when we say "tremolo"-- where you rapidly alternate between up and down. "Fingered tremolo" includes trills and the "shimmering" effect that uses a larger interval. And apparently there's another type, "string-changing tremolo", for want of a name, which this figure seems to be.
February 2, 2023, 3:56 AM · Further to what Richard says, in an ideal world perhaps composers and arrangers should learn every instrument's techniques, but it doesn't always happen.
An example was when I was learning a Charles Ives violin sonata a year or more ago. I found that I could only make sense of the bowings and phrasings by re-editing some of it. My teacher agreed with what I'd done and that Ives was not a string player, in her view. Later we found that he was an organist.
Edited: February 2, 2023, 4:55 AM · Vocabulary again!
Vibrato is a rapid periodic variation in pitch.
Tremolo is a rapid periodic variation in loudness.
They are usually combined in singing, and string, woodwind, and brass playing. The vibraphone (and the "vox humana" of organs) has only tremolo.

The example in this thread is a slurred octave trill which sounds like a tremolo, but smoother than the bowed kind. The same notation is found in piano arragements of sustained orchestral chords.

Edit: Let us not confuse a composer's phrasing marks with practical bowings.

February 2, 2023, 5:36 AM · Adrian wrote: ‘Tremolo is a rapid periodic variation in loudness.’

I think that’s true technically: there will be a moment of silence when the bow is momentarily stationary before changing direction. However, I don’t feel the effect of tremolo to be loud/soft/loud/soft... . Rather, it’s an intensification of sound and is often used to make loud passages seem louder. Most listeners (and violinists) perceive it as adding volume to the passage where it is applied. (I’m writing about the fff tremoli here, not the quiet shimmer that I mentioned above, though the effect there is also of continuous sound.)

I guess the rate of tremolo is much more rapid than the vibrato of many singers, particularly operatic sopranos and Wagnerian basses, whose oscillations are often very audible. I can’t recall who, but a critic complained of a vibrato so wide you could drive a bus down the middle.

Edited: February 2, 2023, 10:37 AM · For a high-school Handel Messiah, our baritone soloist had a vibrato with an "on-off" tremolo slower than the notes in the aria.....
February 3, 2023, 7:49 AM · Rob, where did you find the pair of Ds? Tremulando occurs much more frequently in orchestral music (or at least in groups) rather than in the solo and violin sonata repertoire. Would most people agree that the effect is rather displeasing unless used in a group?

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