View Full Version : I need more help with trills

Jack Roberts
Feb-23-2004, 12:09pm
I'm finally getting to where I can almost play this, but I'm suffering from the lack of a teacher. I'm using violin notation, and in several places it has a dotted eigth note followed by a 16th and the dotted eight is marked as a trill. I have been playing this by playing the note written and hammering on and pulling off one fret above, but that's because I don't know what I'm really supposed to do. When I learned to read music 40 years ago, my piano books were always kind enough to suggest a sequence of notes when the score had trills in it. But the notation I have has no suggestions at all.

There is also one place where there is a dotted eigth D# marked as a trill, followed by a C# grace note before a B. I can't figure out a decent sounding way to play that, either.

Anybody want to help a classical mandolin player wannabe?


Bob A
Feb-23-2004, 11:10pm
I sure can't help at all, but I would like to express my disgruntlement at the difficulty of executing trills on a mandolin. The fiddlers have it all over us in this department.

BTW, you getting anywhere with the Boccherini? I must say it's a nice piece, but no one will mistake my playing for what I heard on the soundtrack. Still, it is recognisable, barely, in parts, I think.

Feb-24-2004, 7:47am
Now for the good news: http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Considering the tempo (or reasonable approximation/consensus thereof) of an Allemande, you need not think of "trill" as synonymous with a myriad mini-milli-micro-nano-notes crammed into a split second.

In fact, the dotted eighth —#sixteenth note groupings, where (obviously) the longer note has the trill, that ornament need not be more that a five-note pattern: Think four thirty-seconds and two sixteenths; or, think of the first half of the beat, where the "noodles" happen, then the last note of the trill plus the printed sixteenth on the latter half of the beat.

It's really less "busy" than you might think...

(All this from a early-music-NON-expert...)

Jack Roberts
Feb-24-2004, 8:08pm

Thanks for the input. I think you are right, but that there isn't much I can do with it. My son, the fender stratocaster player, tells me I should just experiment until I like the sound...Should I start the "noodles" below or above the written note?

Bob A, About the Boccerini, I transcribed it to something I can play on the mandolin, but this is really an ensemble piece. I couldn't talk my son into playing along with me, because I told him he'd have to figure his parts out on his own.


Feb-25-2004, 3:50pm
Jack, as I notice your comment [QUOTE]"hammering on and pulling off one fret above" I recognize the problem: No, no, you ought to pick every note of the trill! (hence Bob's dismay at the difficulties plagueing us pickers—#as opposed, that is, those who use the handy bow)

Still, just play this movement once, sans trills: I am sure you will realize how very, very little needs to be added to it. No sensuous, fanciful sarabande, this one...

Then, add few, choice squiggles (but PICK them!) to taste; easier than you think.

Best of luck,


Jack Roberts
Feb-27-2004, 5:20pm
Thanks, Victor.

Since your earlier post I have been playing it without trills, which means I can get through the piece. I have found that this piece is actually quite lovely played a different speeds. I can do the first part at about the same speed as my cello recording (Rostropovich), but it sounds nice when slowed down a little on the mandolin. It actually can have a little sensuality, or at least emotionality, on the mandlolin. One day I hope to be a good enough player to demonstrate this in my playing. I know what I want it to sound like but I can't get the sound out yet. I know it's in there....

Once I get to where I can do it without too much struggle, I'll try picking out some trills and let you know how it sounds.

I have the Courante to look forward to next. If I don't go crazy first trying to play "Sally Goodin" with the other beginners.


Jim Garber
Feb-27-2004, 5:26pm
#If I don't go crazy first trying to play "Sally Goodin" with the other beginners. #
Having been on both sides of the fence, I can say that there is not all that much difference between Bach and bluegrass. Same notes, eh? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Jack Roberts
Feb-28-2004, 12:11pm
Jim: LOL. What was that line from "Amadeus"? "There are too many notes"...


Feb-28-2004, 3:19pm
Got to this topic late, as there are a lot of things going on simultaneously in my life right now, making my participation scarce.

Jack, out of curiosity, how fast are you playing this movement? And how fast is Rostropovich? I just checked with my metronome, and find that I tend to play the Allemande around 63-66 to the quarter note, in order to get the sound I like on my mandola. I confess that in the places you mention, in lieu of true trills I have been using a single, simple grace note - I guess that is the same thing as what you term "hammering on and pulling off one fret above" (I'm still not accustomed to using the pluckers' vernacular, here! ;)

The Courante is loads of fun - one of my favorite movements on viola, too. The whole Sonata is wonderful.


Jack Roberts
Mar-01-2004, 2:28pm
Hi Bratsche

As far as I can tell, Rosrtopovich plays at about 80. #I can't play the trills, or even the second half of the Allemande at 80. #I can get through it cleanly at 60, and when I slow it down to about 50 I can pick individual notes of the trills. #As I mentioned before, it sounds pretty good at 50, and what I lack in speed, try to put some expression in the dynamics. #When I get my mandola in the distant future I should be able to do this better. #

I like this suite for the Prelude, of course, and the Courante. #I made up my mind to learn it in order, so I really want to nail this Allemande down before I move on to the Courante. #But the Courante and the Minuets are spectacular. I can imagine a ballet to this music. #

I picked this because it was labeled "easy/intermediate violin" on a website...I don't regret taking this on, but it is not easy for me. #I've been at it six months, and I am still only on the Allemande (although I can play the Prelude finally.) #


Mar-01-2004, 2:59pm
Jack, I must say I do take exception to anyone calling these pieces [QUOTE]"easy/intermediate violin" http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif Of course, no blame on you...

Now, then: I don't have the same Rostropovich recording as you do. Regardless of the Great Slava, however, I must side with bratsche's taste in tempo: 60's. Think, allemande, a rather, ehm... stout, German dance, popularized around Europe by German mercenaries (after several dark, STOUT beers, of course http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif I just don't see those folks trotting to a light, merry M.M. 80-something.

In light of my choice of tempo, double mordents are all I can do and, in the proverbial glove fitting the hand, also just about all I want to do; hence my "five-note" blabber above. Thank heavens, I am no musicologist, so I have nothing more to offer than a musicianly instinct and my experience so far. I do not and CAN not argue this any further.

Bear in mind, moreover, that bratsche is playing this on a mandola. Think: longer strings, (presumably) more sustain... you can see how she makes it sound good with only one, left-hand ornament. I tend to think that the mandolin would not sustain long enough to "fill" the ornament— again, my personal bias.

Ultimately, the ear ought to be the guide...

Jim Garber
Mar-01-2004, 3:03pm
The Icking version I have has the tempo at quarter note = 60. Does your music have any metronome markings?


Jack Roberts
Mar-01-2004, 5:43pm
Jim, Victor, and BRatsche:

I'm using the Ickling version, and it is marked "60" in the violin score, but the cello score is not marked.

I don't remember where I saw it as "easy/intermediate". The Virtual Sheet Music site calls it "Skill level: Medium".

Victor, in my Rostropovich recording those stout mercenaries are goose stepping right along. Rostropovich crams 257 quarter notes into 3 minutes an 20 seconds!

I envy Bratsche, as she can play along with the cello recordings. I run out of strings.

I really appreciate your encouragement. I'm glad there are people out there who will help a beginner along.

Jim Garber
Mar-01-2004, 8:56pm
I did a quick search for Bach trill and came up with this site (http://members.aol.com/kjvisbest/jsb_ornm.htm). I don't know how accurate any of it is but maybe it helps.


Jack Roberts
Mar-01-2004, 10:55pm
Well, Jim, this is a good help!

Thanks again. I'm trying to coordinate myself so I can play at different tempos with the metronome, so I've given up on trills for the time being.


Mar-02-2004, 9:44am
Well, ANY printed metronome-marking in Bach cannot stand up to even the meekest, mildest musicological scrutiny. The proverbial grain of salt is highly recommended.

Jack, I was rather thinking of stout Bavarians, doing their lap-slapping, foot-stomping dances on a resonant, wooden floor http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Looking at a Bach suite as a composer/analyst, I cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity of the (usual) formal sequence: After the prelude, which is the only "non-dance" movement, the hearty Allemande, vigorous enough to get things rolling but not TOO rapid; THAT is the effect reserved for the Courante/Corrente, the "running dance" and its implicit frothy, fleeting character; enough, then of these humpty-dumpty choreographies: the solemn, often somber Sarabande comes in to add a touch of the darker, warmer hues; then back to the revelry, concluding with the Gigue, least contrapuntal and most gregarious of all.

My non-expert point being the defense of a moderate but vigorous tempo/character of the Allemande, in context to the overall formal/expressive scheme... IMHO

Jack Roberts
Mar-03-2004, 1:42pm
Victor, when performed the way you describe, it should truly become a coherent suite.

Thanks for the advice. I'm renewing my commitment to learn the first suite cover-to-cover.


Mar-05-2004, 2:07pm
The so-called "formal exigencies" of the suite as a genre are vague and nebulous enough... Handel's suites, for example, are essentially bunches of smaller pieces, strung together in hodge-podge manner, sometimes with fugues and other non-dance movements interjected, etc., etc. Not to belabor this with more, well-known examples...

Bach's suites, however, are by far the most coherent— to my knowledge, at least. The various dances are "rhythmicized variants" of essentially the same harmonic progression, as outlined in the prelude; the same harmonic events happen at the same (i.e. respective) place in every movement; the character is far more homogeneous than in any other specimens from the repertoire.

Not to bore you with tedious technicalities, though; my point is that, whereas many suites by other composers are in desperate need (from the performer?) for some semblance of unity and coherence, the ones by Bach have it all built in. It is the performer's role, therefore, to clearly differentiate the various dance-forms. Hence my objection to the all-too-common, all-too-rapid rendition of those allemandes, a practice which naturally robs the (usually) subsequent courante of ITS own character.

Jack Roberts
Mar-15-2004, 2:14pm
Just to finish this topic up, I have slowed the Allemande down to less than 60, and I have added simple trills (for example a dotted eigth note F# trill I play as F#-G-F# or F#-G-F#-G). #It is coming along much better, and will use my Rostropovitch recording for listening pleasure only, and not as an example of the speed at which I should aspire to play. #Next: the Courante, and Victor's "Diferencias".


Mar-15-2004, 2:47pm
Very nice, Jack...excepting that trills (especially cadential trills) from J.S. Bach's day are usually taken to start on the ornamental note (upper auxiliary), not the principal. #Depending on how the rhythm fits around what I'd like the pick to do next, I will very often play the upper note on a downstroke and the principal on a subsequent downstroke; I also tend to keep trills fairly simple, often a 4-note pattern in a tight spot (e.g., G[down]-F#[down]-G[up]-F#[down]-etc. at whim and as space allows ending on F#). #This gives a bit of rhythmic micro-accent to the tension in the initial dissonance and finishes the ornament on a downstroke as simply singly sounding the principal would.

Notation of ornaments in baroque lute/guitar music was sometimes ambiguous. #Running a little too freely with ornament ambiguity, I will often interpret the little trill squiggle rather liberally and take a mordent (e.g., F#-E-F#) or simple grace note (e.g., G-F#)...or sometimes even a simple turn (e.g., G-F#-E-F#) as the whim takes me and depending on its sound in context. #I will admit that I am a little less likely to take ornaments as notated by Bach as liberally as I would those by de Visee.

On the nature of the suite, I am very proud to say that much of the concept of the standard baroque suite was develpoed by pluckers of strings (via lute and guitar...but still...). #Indeed, the good ones have some coherent harmonic scheme. #One of my very favorites is de Visee's guitar suite in c minor (I think it is typically numbered as his 6th, but don't hold me to that; it's somewhere in his first guitar book, 1682). #I don't think I'll try it on mandolin, but you can if you'd like.

Jack Roberts
Mar-15-2004, 5:05pm
Eugene: Thanks for the advice. I tried the mordant as well, and I think I'm going to use more than one type of trill in this piece.

Mar-16-2004, 6:09pm
re: trills:
I have found it possible to play much faster trills (almost like a double-note tremolo)if I can find the two notes on adjacent strings rather than on the same string. Example: first 2 measures of Fuer Elise -- start on the high E string 12th fret, ,now try to play fast the notes E-D#-E-D# on frets 12-11 on that same E string - it is difficult. Now try 12th fret E string, and 18th fret A STRING -- YOU CAN DO IT MUCH FASTER!!! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Mar-16-2004, 6:15pm
Cross-string trills are fairly common to classical guitar, especially when transcribing keyboard music as the affect is more keyboard-like. I can't claim to have done any more than minor experimentation with such things on mandolin.

Mar-17-2004, 8:39am
Effective performance of cross-string trills on guitar requires great care with the right hand to dampen unwanted resonances. These resonances are much stronger on mandolin (because the sustain is much stronger). It is not possible (at least I can't do it) to dampen on the mandolin with the right hand (it being occupied with a pick) but it is possible to dampen with an unused left hand finger.

Mar-17-2004, 8:48am
Hmm... I would consider each of the two effects sui generis. Yes, the cross-string effect described above is both common and effective on the guitar but it is certainly no trill, not in the sense intended in a Bach suite. Whether it has its own, proper place in mandolin playing, well, I leave that to the experts.

Bob A
Mar-17-2004, 10:06am
Well, I've been messing with cross-string trills in the Boccherini night music, and while what comes out of the box is no trill, it certainly can be interesting. I start it slowly, then speed up until it's virtually a tremolo chord for a brief period. Boccherini would hate me, but I don't care - it's kinda fun, and I'm never going to perform for an audience anyway. As I see it, I can get away with a lot in my living room, and I'm the only consenting adult present.

My experiences with listening to real reformers playing pieces I aspire to has been frequently disturbing. Hugo D'Alton's recording of Beethoven's C-major sonatina is delightful, but that smooth allegro falls to pieces when I get to the e string, and no messing about with fingering has helped. And darn it, the piece doesn't sound right andante.

It doesn't help to think that in 30 years I'll be able to get nerve enhancement from my local nanosurgeon, along with rapid-repeat musculature mods and maybe joint refashioning, because by then I'll be too dead to play.

Jim Garber
Mar-18-2004, 9:02am
Hugo D'Alton's recording of Beethoven's C-major sonatina is delightful, but that smooth allegro falls to pieces when I get to the e string, and no messing about with fingering has helped. And darn it, the piece doesn't sound right andante.
What fingering are you using for that phrase? I have been just shifting to 2nd position to get that C on the e string. Seems to work find after practicing it for a few weeks.


Bob A
Mar-18-2004, 11:04am
Yeah, I've been using the first finger on g (on the e string) and grabbing the f off the a string with 4th finger. I'd been getting tied up into spastic knots, using the 3rd finger for e (on a); it's gradually coming along, but I fear that I'll have to listen to Hugo if I ever want to hear it played right. Still, a spot of public whining does help my motivation; knowing that it's not impossible gives one heart for the struggle. But it looks so easy on the preinted page, doesn't it?

Revisiting Bocherini: the trill that troubles is a trill on d (on the a string) that requires me to coordinate 4th finger e with the vibrating pick. I can do it on some instruments, not on others. But the two-string trill, so called, is an interesting effect, with the shimmering clashing of the two notes. Doubtless it's not what anyone had in mind, but it amuses me. (Comes at the end of the minuette, for those that might care).

Mar-22-2004, 11:35am
[QUOTE]"I'd been getting tied up into spastic knots, using the 3rd finger for e (on a)"

Yup. It's called the "Even Position Syndrome", Bob. Somehow, 1st, 3rd, and 5th are "home base" positions; 2nd and 4th, on the other hand...

Jack Roberts
Mar-26-2004, 1:29pm
I have moved on to the Courante there, so I will try the double string effect. #I'm happy with my Allemande now, in that I can get through it. Pity my family who must listen my poor playing of it over and over again

By the way, I have listened to different recordings now of parts of these suites, and there is clearly no consensus as to the tempo. #For example, Ma plays the prelude in 2:38, compared to 2:04 for Rostropovitch. #Ma's tempo would be 64 while Rostropovitch is up beyond 80. Ickling's violin transcription is marked 69.

Mar-26-2004, 1:35pm
While "comparative listening" certainly has its merits (and, of course, its pleasures), I generally hesitate to learn pieces that way— my bias, as usual.

I would start instead by playing the movement in a variety of tempi, listening, feeling, sensing the way the piece "wants" to go. Although I do not believe in The One And Only Definitive Rendition (or any other such pretense), I DO think that every piece has at least a range of tempo, where it "settles".

As per my rant and rave above, I would only make sure the Courante is perceptibly faster and lighter than the Allemande. Beyond that, what do I know? #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Jim Garber
Mar-26-2004, 3:07pm
Beyond that, what do I know? #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif
Ahhhh, methinks that Mr. Kioulaphides knows significantly more than he lets on.

BTW Victor, this morning woke up from a dream where there was a movie being made with Diferencias as the score. It that prophetic?


Jack Roberts
Mar-26-2004, 5:24pm
Victor, I understand. Being a beginner at this, I find no greater pleasure that when a piece I am learning "takes control" of me and plays itself. Sometimes more slowly, sometimes at speed. This makes the practice to get to that point worth the time. I only wish I could get there faster. For the Courante, I'm going slowly now. It is a finger tangler.

In listening to different performers, I am impressed how the same piece can have such a different sound, but I enjoy them all.

Mar-27-2004, 3:30pm
[QUOTE]"this morning woke up from a dream where there was a movie being made with Diferencias as the score. It that prophetic?"

Well, Jim, let us hope...

It could, I suppose, be used as background music for some hypothetical documentary about the old, Jewish neighborhood of Thessaloniki, the Evréika, with its cobblestone streets winding upwards from the old harbor to the hilltops. But that is too sad, too tragic a chapter in 20th-century Greek history.

Let us, then, "modify the prophecy" —if such a thing is possible #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif — and hope for a love-story to go with the soundrack (preposterous as the wish may be). Quite honestly, however, I am a firm believer in the mysterious powers generated when one person wishes another well— or ill! So, once again, I am indebted to you for your positive thoughts, Jim.

And, while you are at it, can you please wish for my Calace to FINALLY dislodge itself from the clutches of U.S. Customs, the shipping brokers, and all the (*%*^#&^$*#&(#$#%^ intermediaries? #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif