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The title says it all: my trills on piano are really terrible, unless they are 1-2 or 2-3.

Anything involving the 5th finger is especially awful.

I have the same feeling of frustration of when I spent ages trying to fret a barre chord on guitar without it sounding awful before I figured it out.

So, what techniques, drills and excercises do you use for your trills on piano?

How do you change your position when playing trills as opposed to "regular" notes?

I guess arm weight doesn't help here, how to compensate? I have had mixed success by slightly flicking fingers, electric bass-style. Is it a legit technique?

5

My advice: relax. You can't make a trill faster by straining; as soon as you notice you start straining, take a step back and begin slowly and relaxed again. I would advice against flicking, since this will induce unnecessary strains in your finger, and will not be a viable option in the long term.

Another trick: my piano teacher always used to try and have me think in an upward motion. So, instead of trying to push keys down, try to concentrate on lifting your fingers up after playing a key, and let the keys be played by the fact that your fingers will automatically drop in order to be lifted up. As an exercise, he held his hand above mine when practicing (not too far up, but directly above it when not playing), and I should hit his hand with my knuckles after playing a key. Do this only to get a general feeling of the 'upward thinking' though, because, as alephzero said, RSI is always a risk!

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    This is a great answer. BTW funny, when I was a kid my teacher made me think of "sucking up" the keys as well (there was a lame Spiderman joke involved I can't remember). – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 28 '15 at 8:20
  • Oh, by the way - your "kunckle" thing made me think - are you supposed to use any arm weight, here? Because I don't know how well it agrees with the knuckle thing. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 28 '15 at 8:23
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    I think so - since you are only concentrating on the upward motion, I think the downward motion is caused by arm weight. – Sanchises Mar 28 '15 at 8:39
  • Heh, I am actually trying this on my lap and if I just think of "sucking up" stuff I can feel different muscles activating. But I didn't have a proper explanation until I read the above comment. Obvious, in hindsight. Thank you. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 28 '15 at 10:56
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    They are all good. However I'm fond of the finger exercise you proposed, which is something that you might not always come across. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 29 '15 at 9:03
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Czerny has an exercise for right hand trills on all finger pairs: Exercise #36 in "125 Exercises in Passage Playing, Opus 261, Book 1". It's short just musical enough to not be overly boring. A little Czerny every day has really helped my technique.

  • I got my Czerny in PDF at www.everynote.com if you decide to look for this. – Todd Wilcox Mar 25 '15 at 11:05
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    Thank you! IMSLP has it as well: imslp.org/wiki/… By the way, are there other excercises (preparatory one for #36 maybe?) you would suggest? I have never done any sort of technical excercise. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 25 '15 at 12:23
  • actually I'm having the most issues with 3-5 trills, and the excercise you mentioned doesn't seem to help much in that regard :( – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 25 '15 at 13:09
  • Definitely the first few exercises in the 125 by Czerny are pretty accessible for any player. Just basic C major chords and scales. From there, a lot of other ones a pretty basic and still firmly C major. You're not meant to play them perfectly at Allegro tempo with both hands right at the start. The process of learning to play them is part of the exercise. I can't think of a 3-5 trill exercise off the top of my head, although the Czerny #36 will help a lot with 5th and 4th finger independence which is a big deal for lots of things. – Todd Wilcox Mar 25 '15 at 16:34
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The anatomical problem is not so much that the 5th finger is weak (on its own it is as strong as the others) but that the 4th and 5th are not fully independent since they are operated by different parts of the same muscle, and in "normal life" they don't get much use that develops their independence.

A simple demonstration of this: put your hand flat on a table, palm downwards and the fingers slightly apart. Now try to raise one finger off the table and move it from side to side in the gap between the adjacent fingers.You will probably find this is easy with 2 3 and 5, but you can't raise 4 as far as the others or move it as fast. You can use that as an exercise away from the piano. A harder version: do both hands at the same time, but with a different finger on each hand, and/or different rhythms on each hand (e.g. 3 against 2). Even harder: different rhythms with two fingers on the same hand (especially if one of them is 4).

BIG health warning: over-practicing can lead to RSI here. You need to build up strength and stamina over a timescale of years, not days.

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Anything that works for you is legit! Try holding the arm very steady,so that your bent fingers have just the tips touching the keys. Articulate from the knuckles closest to the palm. Some trills can work from a side to side movement of the hand.

Pinkies are the weakest, therefore the worst to trill with. Move the hand across, so you use other fingers. Often there's no need to use the little one at all. We could walk on our hands, but because feet do the job better, we tend to use those. Best two are usually index and middle, as you probably know and use. As ever practise lots and it'll improve. Go slowly, until the speed takes over from the brain telling fingers what to do.

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I have just found an e book written in 2014 by Chaun C .Chang called "Fundamentals of Piano Practice " which is the best advice I have ever seen about learning the piano . Chapter 7 covers Trills and muscle tone etc.

  • The Chang book has interesting advice about keeping the musicality as you learn the trills. The concentration on getting every note played at the expense of musicality is what he warns about – john cadd May 31 '16 at 18:30
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Hanon also has finger strengthening and trill exercizes.

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I don't know whether this is bad practice, but I "cheat", according on everyone's responses so far.

Why can't we just use non-consecutive fingers to perform trills? It's much easier, faster, and less tiring. Why use finger 5 at all (worse yet, finger 4 with it)? 2-5 or 1-5 could work, though awkward.

My piano teacher advised to use fingers 2-4 or 1-3 to perform trills. If the trill is on top of an "arpeggiated" chord, that top note would most likely get finger 5, but use the finger sequence 5-2-4-2-4-2. Start slowly while you try to "free" finger 5 in this case.

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