I have read in this wiki about the alternative trill. However it does not show as a symbol. How do I notate the trill that indicates that a lower note than the one on the sheet should be played in the trill?

  • Piedpiper's answer is correct, but you should always write the trill based on the lower note in the first place. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 14:02
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    Don't get the impression that there are only two kinds. The overall topic is "ornaments, "and there are millions of them; various people in the baroque and Classical periods filled entire books with various varieties. If you have very specific wishes about the timing and style, it might be best to write them out. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 15:00
  • @CarlWitthoft This is not the case. The written note should be the primary (i.e., melody) note, and the "trill" note the decorative one.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:20
  • @Aaron not sure what your point is. Is this about the style where a trill ends short of the written note and the performer holds the written note? If you want that plus trilling down, I would strongly suggest writing, e.g., a trilled half-note tied to an eighth-note at the upper pitch. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 18:15
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    @CarlWitthoft Aaron's point seems to be that sheet music isn't just instructions for performance. You should indicate what the note is conceptually, as part of the harmony. If you wrote a G chord and had the D trill down to a C#, you shouldn't notate a C# with a grace note. Just like you shouldn't notate a C natural if you're writing a G# major chord.
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 6:35

3 Answers 3


When notating ornaments, the "main" note — the one that is part of the melody even if the ornament were removed — must be notated explicitly, with the ornament notation added to it.

The assumption with trill indications is that the trill will involve the main note and the note above.1 A trill from the main note downward should be expressly indicated, as there is no symbol specific to it. This can be done in a variety of ways. I rather like @rfbw's parenthetical note solution, but there are two others which are more common.

  1. Add a footnote. This allows, either in text or by notation, for the indication of how the trill should be played.
  2. Add an ossia explicitly notating (some portion of) the trill.

Both of these options are unambiguous and will preserve the intrepretive importance of notating the main note.

1 Unless otherwise indicates, the "note above" will be the next diatonic note. For a chromatic "note above", an accidental is included above the main note (and below any tr indication).

  • Ok that's important to know, I've changed the answered status of my question because it appears the answer from PiedPiper is wrong.
    – Toma
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 11:58

To indicate, that the secondary note is not the upper neighbor in the scale, notate either a two-tone alternating tremolo (as mentioned earlier in a comment by @AndyBonner) or a pitched trill (as suggested in Behind Bars by Elaine Gould, although the term 'pitched trill' seems to stem from the LilyPond community):

measured two-tone tremolo and unmeasured pitched trill

Keep in mind, that the tremolo could be interpreted either as a free tremolo or a measured tremolo. The measured tremolo would be an abbreviation for strictly rhythmic notes – 32nd notes (demisemiquavers) in this case. The pitched trill does not imply a strict rhythm.

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    I guess the second bar is an established convention? But I've never seen it before, and TBH wouldn't know how to interpret it ("Is it a kind of concluding grace before the next note?"). As for measured/unmeasured tremolo, sometimes a fast tempo makes unmeasured obvious, but there's no harm in adding a text note to specify. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:16
  • @PiedPiper Well, if you find it typographically ugly: This is just the output of LilyPond, without any tweaking (\pitchedTrill d''2 \startTrillSpan a'). I dislike the notation of note value in the tremolo notation. I always have to sort out that these two half notes take up the duration of one half note.
    – rfbw
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:58

A trill to a lower note is equivalent to a trill from the lower note to the upper one with a preceding grace note, so that is how it is normally notated.

From the book "Behind Bars" by Elaine Gould (p.138):

A grace note may specify when the starting note is other than the written note

For example, if you want to trill from A to G, this is the way to notate it:
enter image description here

Note: starting a trill from the upper note was the default during the baroque era, and this persisted until well into the classical period.

  • @AndyBonner - These days, Musescore plays all grace notes placed before larger notes on the beat, not just before, including the slashed grace notes. (I recall that Musescore 1.0 didn't.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 15:45
  • @Dekkadeci Noted, though unless an OP specifies otherwise, I have to assume they're talking about what humans will do (if they know the difference). And with the warning that all ornaments have to be interpreted in light of who wrote them and where and when, and there are exceptions. Also, crap, I got it completely backwards. Deleting and re-commenting... Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 15:51
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    @Toma, Note that this will also make certain implications about the timing of the notes. The little A with the slash through it will fall just slightly before the beat; the G will be on the beat and receive a bit more emphasis than the A. If you take away the slash, then the A is an appoggiatura, which is its own type of ornament. The performer would place it exactly on the beat, hold it a bit longer than the other notes in the trill, and emphasize it a bit. If you want neither one, there are also other options, like a two-note alternating tremolo. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 15:53
  • @AndyBonner The fact that music notation software might play the first note before the beat is irrelevant. Any experienced player knows that this is a trill starting on the upper note.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:06
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    This notation will produce the technically correct result, but not the musically correct one. In OP's case, A is the "main" note and G the decorate one. The notation here indicates that G is the primary note and A the decorate one. This has potentially signifiant implications for interpretation.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:19

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