Turns, Trills, and Tremolos
Embellishing a melody with the three Ts (turns, trills, and tremolos) can provide a great deal of excitement to your playing. These techniques when used sparingly are very effective at making even a mundane melody much more interesting. Of course, like all the techniques in this book, when overdone they become cliché and get stale very quickly. So use these special effects as a small side item, not as the main course.
Trills, turns, and tremolos have special notation symbols that are placed before or after the note they are embellishing. This is a shorthand method so the copyist does not have to write out every single repeating note, with the added benefit that the printed page looks neater. Refer to the appropriate musical examples to see what these symbols look like.
When additional notes are added to the melody note, it is a turn. There are several different types of turns, but all of them are simply extra notes added to increase interest in the melody. Classical composers used turns extensively in keyboard music, and pop entertainers use turns to spice up their music as well. For a three-note turn you play three notes for the melody in place of a single note, usually by starting on the melody note, playing the note directly above or below it, and then returning back to the original melody note.
FIGURE 15-5: Three-note turns
Classical composers often employed a five-note turn, where you start on the melody note and then go above and below it in rapid succession before returning to the melody note. Use this pattern whenever you want to impart a classical music feeling to your playing. The tempo of the music will dictate how slow or fast to play the turn.
FIGURE 15-6: Five-note turns
Trills are a flashy way to add emphasis to a held note. Rather than just holding a single note for a long time, a pianist can play the melody note and the note a whole step above it back and forth very rapidly. The trill adds interest and creates a shimmering effect. By playing a trill, the held note's sound is sustained indefinitely, instead of dying out as would happen if you just struck the note once and held it. Trills are often used in classical music when one hand has a complex passage to play, and the other is holding a single note. Use right hand trills whenever you are holding a note for any length of time and you want to bring attention to the left hand accompaniment. Traditionally, trills always start a step above the melody note.
FIGURE 15-7: Right hand trills
Probably the most conspicuous of all the right hand techniques, the tremolo (meaning “to shake”) really demands the attention of the listener. You achieve the effect by “shaking” every note in a chord back and forth, or by shaking the melody by playing it in octaves and rapidly shaking the notes back and forth. This style gives a very nostalgic sound to the melody, and is perfect when you want to create the impression of a bygone era. It also works well on minor and diminished chords when you want to create a dramatic or spooky feeling. Use it sparingly, as it is so blatant an effect it is distracting if overdone. Be sure to depress the sustain pedal to blend the sound, and change the pedal with each new harmony. Because this technique can create a very loud sound, tremolos are usually played in the upper register of the piano. Playing low note tremolos becomes muddy sounding very quickly, and is usually reserved for special effects. Be sure to listen to the track on the accompanying CD to hear the tremolo examples.
FIGURE 15-8: Tremolos
Are the techniques in this chapter only for the right hand?
Not at all! The left hand, with varying degrees of success and difficulty, can also perform any technique in this chapter. However, the right hand most commonly plays these techniques, as that is usually the hand playing the melody. By all means, experiment with each of them with your left hand as well, especially if the left hand has the melody.