I used to play the top left note (see below) with a single C# key press of the assumed duration. Some listeners told me that the (tr) notation above indicates that a short sequence of sounds should be played instead, but when I asked, the two people have shown me slightly differently. Is it true at all? How many times do I need to press the C# piano key for this note? The meter is 2/4.

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  • 1
    This question like all ornament questions is very hard to answer definatevely seeing as how open to interpretation the playing of ornaments are.
    – Neil Meyer
    Nov 8, 2015 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


Well, there's a lot going on with trills. Like most ornaments their precise performance nature is down to stylistic choices and the preference of the performer, along with knowledge of the context in which the composer was expecting the piece to be performed.

Your specific except looks like it's approaching a cadence in D major (I'm assuming we've got treble clef on the top and bass clef underneath and no exotic key signature). I also note the trill instruction is in brackets, which often means it was inserted by the editor as a suggestion. This trill on the leading note idea is called a cadential trill and is often seen in baroque music.

I'd instinctively (but I am a baroque musician and upper note trills are our default) play this starting on the D, lingering for just a moment there before a fairly rapid trill between C# and D, finishing on the C# and then re-articulating that D quaver precisely on time to take the listener into the cadence. It's a classic perfect cadence, and we frequently add such trills without any markings being in the music because it's a common stylistic feature.

However, use your judgement. The editor's only suggested this, so you could leave it out if you wanted. Try both ways. Try starting on the main note. Try playing with how long you linger on the first note. Try accelerating through the trill (not the tempo of the music, but the speed of your trilling). Experiment with how you leave the trilled note and articulate the quaver D, and then the D which concludes the cadence. Try putting a turn on the end of the trill if you want, turned trills also feature before cadences sometimes. It might sound great! It might sound completely out of place.

You won't know until you try it.


I would just like to respectfully disagree with the other answer. A three note trill would be more in line with a mordant and that has its own marking.

A view points to consider when you interpret trills.

  1. Is it a baroque trill? Baroque trills started on the upper auxiliary note.
  2. What is the the tempo? Simply stated when the music is fast there is less time to play the trill so the trill has to be shorter. Also longer trill for slow tempo.
  3. Whatever or however you play the trill it has to fit in the rhythm of the piece. You have a dotted crotchet. What you play has to fit into that note value.
  4. The trill has to transition smoothly. The last note of the trill and the first note of the fourth beat should not be the same.
  5. Remember you may very well have to use the turn motif to make the trill fit.

To play a trill marked on a note, one plays the note itself, then either the note one semitone or one tone above, then alternates quite quickly between them. There is no actual number that needs to be played, it depends on the length of time there is available, and how the player wants to play it. The trill could be just 3 notes, or, on a minim in slow time, lots. The main idea is to start with the written note, and play it again at the end of the trill, just before playing the next written note. It will also depend somewhat on the piece, and its era. Trills maybe came about in the harpsichord popularity time, when dynamics didn't happen on harpsichords, to allow more interest into pieces.

  • 1
    Thanks, great! This explains why the two people play a different number of sounds for me - 'there is no actual number'.
    – h22
    Nov 8, 2015 at 11:43
  • Do you have a source for the trill not being around for the harpsichord? Also, the (admittedly tiny) fragment the OP posted seems to be composed in a not so modern era (appoggiatura and consonant V-I cadence), so I suspect one should play this trill starting with the D. Also, someone put markings in the score indicating the As should not be played legato, something rather baroque or classical, both calling for a trill from the upper note.
    – 11684
    Nov 9, 2015 at 22:48
  • I disagree with the last sentence. It is true, that harpsichords have a special relation to trills, but I would offer the following explanation: Lacking a sustain pedal it was necessary to ornament long tones, since otherwise they would fade away; trill is one of the candidates fro that. For simple dynamics variation the second manual or octave coupling would have been used.
    – guidot
    Nov 10, 2015 at 12:53

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