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After many years of playing piano I recently encountered the double trill in Chopin's Barcarolle. I'm having a hard time getting my fingers to actually play them. Although I do have what could be called "slow fingers", I don't really have trouble with regular trills. Below is the tricky part:

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What would you recommend for me to be able to play something other than a muddled mess of sound?

I suspect my 4th and 5th fingers aren't strong enough...perhaps strengthening exercises?

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    Wow, that's intense. Great question. – Matthew Read Jun 17 '15 at 15:27
  • Tell me about it :/ – codedude Jun 17 '15 at 23:41
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First, I agree with alephzero about the fingering. The fingering in your edition assumes that you start on the upper auxiliary rather than the lower, and as I have detailed in my note to his answer this is not set in blood. If you like the lower auxilary, then reverse the numbers in the fingerings. 4-2 on the lower notes and 5-1 on the uppers, changing to 3-2 on the lowers when the Cx moves to C#.

Now, you can go to Hanon or Czerny (or Chopin's G# minor etude if you really want a serious challenge) and look for trill exercises, but this is a great one in its own right. You can treat it like its own strengthening exercise.

I'll amplify what alephzero said about "extra credit". To start with, play the passage as if it were a fairly slow melody. Forget about playing it fast, forget about teaching yourself how to play a trill, just focus on the (actually more difficult) challenge of making music out of that trill passage when you are playing it slowly enough for all the notes to be distinct. You'll definitely notice some weakness in 4 and 5, but you'll probably notice even more the lack of coordination between the two fingers. Work to balance the placement of the fingers on the keyboard so they can play the notes smoothly. And above all, forget that it is more difficult to play a trill with 4-5 than it is with 2-3. You're not playing a trill right now, you're playing a melody. As you get that sense of melody, you'll find it begins to take off. The longer you can hold onto the sense of making music first and a trill second, the better you will execute the trill once you work up to it.

  • Thanks for the advice. I did notice the lack of coordination between the two fingers...I'll try it slow for now and work my way up :) – codedude Jun 19 '15 at 1:25
  • You have to keep working at this. I was in my junior year as a piano major before I had a breakthrough with trills in 4-5. The first part of that breakthrough is avoid them where possible! But seriously, I could suddenly easily do mordents with those fingers, and trills weren't too far behind. Not that I ever learned to do them as well as with 2-3 or whatever. And I still can't do them in my left hand very well. – BobRodes Jun 19 '15 at 1:39
  • Haha well I'm in my senior year as an electrical engineer. Hopefully my breakthough comes soon. :) – codedude Jun 19 '15 at 18:06
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    If you keep at it in the right way, it will come to you eventually. :) – BobRodes Jun 20 '15 at 22:37
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    Good for you! And it only took five months. Nobody said it was easy, but it's a great feeling to have something like that under your fingers. :) – BobRodes Nov 23 '15 at 0:40
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Your doesn't show the important fact that the trills start on the upper note. See the Peters edition here, for example. http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ReverseLookup/102120

The fingering in your edition is good, but it's not obvious what it means (and @MattPutnam guessed wrong about contrary motion). Play the lower trill with your thumb under the second finger. In other words start on D#-B fingered 5-1, then Cx-A# 4-2, and similarly for the second trill.

Final comment: you don't get any extra credit for playing trills insanely fast.

  • What you are calling a fact is actually more of a performance guideline. Until fairly recently, music editors regularly took it upon themselves to write out such things, including Peters' editors. While I don't have a facsimile of Chopin's manuscript to get the last word on this, some of the editions on the page you've linked have the upper auxiliary notes written out and some don't. The OP's edition looks to be Schirmer, not the most reliable source either. Next, while most performers that I looked at start on the auxiliary, some do not, most notably Rubinstein. – BobRodes Jun 19 '15 at 0:49
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Don't think of it as two simultaneous trills, think of it as a coordinated single trill or tremolo. Also, I'm not familiar with this piece, but the fingering would seem to indicate that the trills move in contrary motion (which I'm finding to be immensely easier as I test it out by tapping on my desk). Finally, I would note that barcarolles are very lazy sounding by nature, so I don't think this needs to be done very rapidly.

  • Could you clarify what you mean by "contrary" – codedude Jun 17 '15 at 19:01
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    @codedude Meaning in opposite directions; the opposite of parallel motion. The first one seems to indicate a trill from {1 and 5} to {2 and 4} – MattPutnam Jun 17 '15 at 19:25
  • Like a regular trill is a left-to-right oscillation at the wrist, think of these contrary motion trills as forward-backward oscillation. Use bigger muscles than just the ones that control each finger, or you'll wear out in a few seconds. – Camille Goudeseune Jun 17 '15 at 21:00
  • The notes are A# B in the bottom and Cx D# in the top for the first trill, with the second one having the Cx drop to C# and all the other notes the same. alephzero has it right. – BobRodes Jun 18 '15 at 23:53
  • @codedude You can demonstrate what Matt means pretty easily for yourself. Try playing a trill in sixths in the right hand, say C#-D# in the lower trill, and A#-B in the upper. You'll find that it's much easier to play C#-B followed by D#-A# than it is to play C#-A# followed by D#-B. The reason for this is that it's easier to trill between two inner fingers and two outer ones than inner-outer, inner-outer. With thirds, you can take the upper note in the lower trill with the thumb. With sixths, you can't do that if you can't palm a basketball, so this little cheat can come in handy. – BobRodes Nov 23 '15 at 0:55

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