What Are The BEST Trill Fingers?

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about which fingers work best for playing trills on the piano. Sometimes people see trills and they think they should just play as many notes as possible. I’ve talked before about how trills must be measured. You have to know exactly how many notes you’re playing in a trill. Even though when you listen to a trill it sounds like a free form explosion of notes going back and forth, trills have to be measured so you know exactly how many notes you play. Otherwise, ending a trill is impossible because you’re leaving it to chance whether you end up on the right note or not!

You don’t always get to choose your trill fingers.

There are some instances, for example in Bach Fugues, where you must trill with four and five. These are the worst fingers to trill with! Try to avoid four and five as trill fingers. A lot of people think three and two are the best trill fingers. And indeed, three and two are pretty strong trill fingers. But the best trill fingers are actually three and one! Three and one are the strongest fingers. Your thumb is the strongest finger and the third finger is probably your second strongest finger. Three and one are terrific for trills. Four and two could work nicely as well. There are a lot of different possibilities. Three and one are great when you have that possibility. Three and two are good too. It depends where you’re coming from and where you’re going in your score to determine what the right fingering is. Not only that but if you have other lines within the same hand, sometimes as I said, in contrapuntal writing in fugues particularly, you might not have much of a choice as to which fingers to use for trills.

I’m going to give you one final trill fingering tip.

I’m going to show you something that’s really interesting and it ties right in with the idea of measuring your trills. If you measure your trills, you might want to try alternating three, one, three, two. By using those fingers, you actually reduce the load of the trill to three fingers so none of the fingers have to work quite as hard. Not only that but it helps you to measure your trills. Even if you don’t end up using three, one, three, two as trill fingerings, it will help you to make sure that you’re playing the right number of notes in your trills, which is the most important thing!

You never want to think of trills as something abstract from music.

Just imagine that every single note is written out and play it as it’s written in the score. If you’re figuring out your own trills, find something you can play reliably. Don’t worry about trying to make the fastest trill. What’s important is that it’s musical, repeatable, and dependable. If you can use three and one, or at least three and two, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. I would like all of you to try three, one, three, two, as well and let me know how it works for you! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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3 thoughts on “What Are The BEST Trill Fingers?”

  1. I have the piano that my late father purchased in 1932, when he was about 25 years old. It is a Steinert. I have some of the billing papers and letters. The highest amount on the bills is about $800.00. It was from a Sherman , Clay & Co in Portland, Oregon.
    I haven’t taken care of it like he did. The top has crackling and lost its shine. What can I do to clean it. It was tuned several years ago, but I don’t play.
    I also have boxes and boxes of music.
    I think he was self-taught. And did mail order lessons for a while.

  2. Robert-

    When I learned the Goldberg Variations–that’s when I really had to understand trilling. The 16th variation has a couple of particularly nasty trill situations and at times I wondered if I would ever conquer it or if I would ultimately surrender! I felt like I did, finally, win the battle.

    Something that I always point out to students about trills: learn trills as slowly as you learn the rest of the piece. I totally agree, one must know (1) which note to start on, (2) try out various fingering options and settle on the best available, and (3)decide how many notes and what rhythm to use in the trill (when we say “how many” we are really asking what are the note lengths, 8ths, 16ths, 32mds, 64ths, etc, and are all notes in the trill the same or are there triplet groups , 5-note groups, even 7-note groups and are there any particular accents at the start or finish…).

    Once you can totally define the trill, write it out on the score. Then, really important , learn and practice the trill passage very slowly. Concentrate on legato and totally relaxed: zero-tension. Practice slowly with full rotation at the relaxed wrist, also without rotation but high fingers while sounding legato… For me, the trill often is part of the piece that can speed up sooner than the rest of the piece as it’s being learned–but resist that and play it slow for as long as you can stave off the boredom.

    There are some very good trill exercises that I often work through when I’m feeling rusty. Pischna is super (esp numbers 1-12). Brahms has some very good trill exercises in his 51 Exercises (numbers 17, 18a and 18b). Of course, exercises like Hanon as well as scales themselves are great for trills.

    There are passages galore in the repertoire that are really trill “problems” and can be tackled per the above… the last movement of Beethoven’s Les Adieux and the coda in his final movement of the Waldstein come to mind as examples.

    See how thought provoking your “blog” was!

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