My teacher told me that I have to play trills with 3 fingers (3-2-1). Is he right? Can I play trills with 4 fingers (4-3-2-1)?


Tremolo (trill)

  • 5
    Tremolo and trill are not the same thing. I see a trill. I do not see any indication of a tremolo.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 14 '15 at 9:41
  • I've edited your question to match the given notation, but if it needs to go the opposite direction please switch it back and add a better example.
    – user28
    Oct 14 '15 at 18:18

The sign tr denotes a trill. It doesn't denote a tremolo. With a trill, especially one as long as this, it can be played using the note written, and usually alternated with one a semitone or tone above, quickly. This can be done with two fingers, or 3 or 4, depending on the choice of the player. The note shown could be a C or C#, thus giving a choice between alternating black/white keys, or white/black keys, or even white/white, or black/black.

A tremolo is rather different, but that doesn't need discussing here, except to say that's not what's expected here.


While the music pictured indicates a trill, we can discuss one-handed tremolo on piano. I agree with your teacher, assuming we are using different finger numbers.

There are some very quickly repeated notes in some pieces that have to be played with one hand. I'm thinking of "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle" from Pictures at an Exhibition, primarily. In that case, yes, using multiple fingers from one hand is the best way.

There is a good reason not to use the thumb (1st finger, in the numbering I'm familiar with) nor the pinky (5th finger) when playing rapidly repeated notes. Especially with the 5th, it is usually shorter and weaker and it would be much more difficult to play quickly and evenly with that as one of the fingers. The thumb is not only a different size but is also articulated very differently, again making it a challenge to play quickly and evenly.

The technique I was taught was to use fingers 2, 3, and 4 (index, middle, and ring) and to use them in reverse order, meaning 4-3-2-4-3-2-etc. In the piece mentioned above, I finger it 4-3-2-2-(2-3-2). The first four notes are quickly repeated playing of one key, and then the (2-3-2) is a little ornament at the end with the 3 being used for the next higher note.

  • It seems more natural to use fingers in reverse order, as you say. Probably practised when waiting impatiently for someone, drumming them on anything to hand, so to speak... However, the example shows, as you say, a trill.
    – Tim
    Oct 14 '15 at 14:24
  • I debated whether to answer the question in the title or comment on the actual situation in question. With the assumption that someone will want to know how to play rapidly repeated notes with one hand I thought an answer to that would be useful on the site. Oct 14 '15 at 14:26
  • Yes, a good idea - given the header. I thought tremolo was rapid repetition of a single note - it certainly is on guitar - but dictionary says rapid repetition of notes far apart. Don't understand that. I suppose on piano, something like octaves, with thumb and pinky would be the thing.
    – Tim
    Oct 14 '15 at 14:46
  • It's either... or both. You can do a one-note tremolo or a multi-note (most commonly two, at least on piano) tremolo. I think single note "tremolo" is rare on piano - enough that I've never seen it. The Mussorgsky passage isn't really tremolo and isn't notated as such, but it is rapid repetition of the same note, and that is the technique I was taught to play it, and taught by a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory so I have reason to believe it's a widely accepted technique and I would use it on a single-note tremolo if I ever saw one. Oct 14 '15 at 15:27
  • 1
    @Tim a two-note tremolo is the same as a trill, but with a wider interval than a semitone or a tone - anything up to an octave. Unless there are other notes played with same hand you usually use the thumb plus a finger depending on the size of the interval. You might want to change the finger(s) for a long tremolo, similar to my answer.
    – user19146
    Oct 15 '15 at 22:09

If the OP's question really is about a trill, then short trills are often played using just two fingers on the alternating notes. But on a long trill it is often less tiring to use fingering like 1 3 2 3 1 3 2 3 1 3 2 3 ... rather than 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 ... or variations on this idea 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 ... or 1 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 1 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 ...

You can use similar fingering for playing fast repeated notes. If the notes are triplets, use 3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1... Maybe that is what your teacher was meant by "3-2-1 fingering".

4-3-2-1 is possible, but using four fingers means your hand and arms have to move around more than using two or three, so you don't necessarily gain anything.

It doesn't get much better than this demo of how to do it...

  • I see that she uses "4-3-2-1 fingering", anyway, she uses 4 fingers. Please see 1:20 in 0.25 speed. Oct 17 '15 at 7:43
  • Is she really using her thumb on those repeated notes? I can't tell. Seems like a hard way to do it but maybe I'm just not aware of the best technique there. Oct 17 '15 at 12:41
  • Most of the repeated notes in the Scarlatti are in groups of 4, and the thumb on the last note of the group can be useful to "push" your hand sideways to the next group. On a harpsichord the key weight is less than piano and the action is more "hair-trigger", playing the note near the top of the key depression not at the bottom, and the easiest way is to press your thumb and 3rd finger together to "lock" the hand in a rigid position, and just shake your wrist, as in youtube.com/watch?v=HLuYLN_k4lA But that is not a good idea for piano technique.
    – user19146
    Oct 17 '15 at 17:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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