I'm trying to teach myself some Schubert and am playing through Sonate 1 (Op. 42). The piece employs a lot of trills. However, there are two notations in use: tr and the up & down squiggle.

Is there a difference between how the two should be played? Or is this some editorial convenience I should be unconcerned with?

Additionally, is there some guideline on how many oscillations are required to qualify as a trill? The squiggle seems to imply a few, but sometimes that seems like too much in some cases; but in this piece, there are both leading grace notes and trills, indicating to me that a down-up-down is insufficient.

I know some artistic license is allowed, but I don't want to play like a rube.

1 Answer 1


The first thing to realize is that notation and performance are different in Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music. The Romantic rules apply to Beethoven and later composers. The small squiggle (two zigs and two zags) means three notes, the first on the note, the second on the note a step higher (the "auxiliary note"), and the third on the note again. On the first note in measure 1, there are two small notes written out (probably the "leading grace notes" that you mention); Schubert has basically gone to the trouble of writing out the first few of these ornaments to show how he wants them played. Play the squiggles in the same way as these notes are written.

I see only a couple of "tr" markings in this sonata. Trills are a bit different; they run for the duration of the note. (In Romantic music, they also start on the main note; before Beethoven the usual practice was to start it on the auxiliary note.) In the case of these, there is a "tr" marking on a quarter note; tr with a long squiggle afterwards is generally to show a longer trill going over several other notes in a different voice. It's more of a reminder for the performer than a differing performance requirement from the simple tr marking. In the case of these quarter notes, try to fit five notes in. Some pianists like to divide the quarter into six, start with a rest, and play the same five notes. This gives an attractive little pause before the trill begins, and often will make the notes match up better with the notes in other voices.

As for your question about guidelines, the main one is that the trill should run for the duration of the note. How fast they are is often a matter of technical ability, but a reasonable guideline is to put at least two notes (one main note and one auxiliary) for each of the fastest notes in the accompanying voice. A very typical use of trill is to run a trill on the second scale degree while the left hand is doing some sort of V chord figuration, resolving the trill down to the tonic note (usually with a turn) while the left hand resolves to the I chord. Mozart's well-known C major sonata has a textbook example of this, at the end of the first movement. The left hand has an Alberti bass figuration in 16ths, so the trill should be 32nds. This is common to the point of being a cliché (Mozart regluarly used every cliché in the book and always got away with it; one of the reasons that he's great for studying basic theory) in the Classical period.

  • I'm relieved I can play the "squiggles" with the three notes instead of squeezing in 5, since it seems more natural to me. You've clarified many things for me, thanks!
    – Jacob
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 16:27
  • You're very welcome. As a general rule, removing notes from ornaments or leaving them out altogether in some places are reasonable technical simplifications when needed. You can often change a "mordent" (what these three little notes are called) to a grace-note without detracting from the musicality of your performance. So, focus on making a good musical interpretation rather than on rigidly adhering to the notes.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 21:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.