Prompted by a recent listener question on Contrabass Conversations, double bassist Phillip Serna wrote in with some notes from a technique class he recently gave on trilling. I thought that it would prove to be interesting reading for many string players out there. Enjoy!
Discussion on Trills from Valparaiso University – Double Bass Faculty – Dr. Phillip Serna
Trill Exercises are excellent edurance & stregth exercises for a double bassists fingers. There are several ways of dealing with trills, sylistically but more later. First, finger groupings:
- 1-2-4 & 1-2-3 (thumb position) for finger groupings
- Trill Combinations – 1-2, 1-4 & 2-4 (& reverse)
- Thumb Position Combinations – 1-2, 1-3 & 2-3 (& reverse). Use Franco Petracci’s Simplified Higher Technique for some great thumb position exercises For Extended Postion (all 1/2 steps) Combinations – 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4
In addition to a clear hammering motion from your left hand to initiate the strings, it is important to keep a strong curvature for your fingers to focus the pressure if your fingertips directly on the string. If your thumb placement is across from your 2nd finger (behind the neck) this allows for more equal leverage for your fingers to receive support from your thumb.
- Note – no two hands are made alike regarding bone structure & muculature. Some will have thumb directly across from 2nd-finger, some between 1st & 2nd-finger. *
It is essential to practice trills in rhythms: eigths, triplets, sixteenths, sextuplets. For those who have more strength, I often practice them without the bow. Pizzicato you wonder? Not really. This uses the hammering motion for upward movement & left-hand pizzicato for downwards pitch movement. For lay-folk: hammer-ons & pull-offs. This allows for greater clarity especially for trilling during slurs. Happy practicing.
Contextual information on trills:
There is no one singular way to perform a trill. When looking at 19th century trill, they often start from the printed note. When examining primary sources prior to 1800.
C.P.E. Bach’s treatise/ method on keyboard playing and Quantz’s method/ treatise on 18th century flute performance are great resources on ornamentation. Being a viol player as well as a double bassist, I thouroughly enjoy Judy Tarling’s book Baroque String Playing (for ingenious learners) – read the preface regarding the title, it is a bit of a historical in-joke. Tarling’s book is an exceptional collection looking at ornamentation using primary sources from more than a century.
Why is this important for the double bassist you might ask? There is no single way to perform trills, let alone the many derivitives that are to be found in the works of many varied composers. Many of them used varied symbols for trills, lengths of trills, etc.
Hopefully these explorations will make your exploration of music and infinitly richer experience.
Dr. Phillip W. Serna
Faculty – Valparaiso University http://www.valpo.edu/music/ Faculty – The Music Institute of Chicago http://www.musicinst.org/, Director, Viols in Our Schools – Bringing Early Music to Wider Audiences http://www.violsinourschools.org/