I encountered this notation and was wondering what it means. enter image description here

  • That question is slightly different and the primary answer there is slightly incorrect. When a rhythm is notated with normal 16th or 32nd beaming but open noteheads, that's just shorthand for playing 16ths or 32nds for two beats. Sometimes 32nd beaming is used to imply as-fast-as-possible tremolo in this way, but not necessarily. In this question's example, two of the beams don't go all the way across and it is far less ambiguously a tremolo. If I wanted that Also Sprach transcription to begin with tremolo, I would write it as whole notes with tremolo beaming, not open-notehead 32nds. Jul 3, 2014 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


It's a tremolo. The performer should rapidly alternate between the first two notes and the second two notes for two beats. The notation can be a bit confusing because it looks like it might last twice as long, but both notes of a tremolo are supposed to be written as the full length of the tremolo. Not to be confused with tremolo on orchestral string instruments, or tremolo picking on a guitar, mandolin, etc., although there is some relation.

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    Hello Pat. Your excellent answer touches on something that makes me curious. Why is this called tremolo which I associate with amplitude modulation vs. vibrato (frequency modulation) as the example appears to address rapidly shifting pitches vs. changing dynamics ? It seems that you might be able to explain why tremolo and vibrato are modulations that can be confusing? Consider Leo Fender's guitar amplifiers, what was labeled as a vibrato circuit is actually a tremolo, pulsing on/off volume control. Thank you in advance.
    – filzilla
    Jul 1, 2014 at 17:59
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    @filzilla Yeah, this gets confusing. If you tell a bowed string instrument to be played tremolo, the player very rapidly moves the moves the bow back and forth to create a constant, nervous reiteration of the note (similar to tremolo picking on a guitar). I'm guessing this is where "tremolo" as the name of the effect you're describing comes from—even though the effect is often much slower. Vibrato is a relatively small and rapid pitch bending back and forth where the frequency is changing continuously. Jul 1, 2014 at 19:28
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    @filzilla Tremolo as in the effect in the notated example of the question is actually more akin to a trill, wherein the player rapidly alternates between two discrete pitches. The only major difference is that a trill is usually alternating between two single pitches a step away from each other, while a tremolo (in this new sense) is usually more than a step away and can also involve more than two pitches. Jul 1, 2014 at 19:31

A triple bar like the one seen in the image refers to a tremolo between two notes or chords. A tremolo is simply a rapid alternation between these two notes or chords. The entire tremolo lasts the time either chord is notated as, not the sum of the two.

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