What trills are, how they are played and some exercises to help you out.

Introduction. To know trills you need to know the techniques of Hammer-ons and Pull-offs. When both, Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are used together, it's called a Trill. I personally really like trills a lot because they fit well in solos and can also be used in arpeggios. Basically, I hope this lesson helps you understand what trills are and teach you how to use them. Hammer-ons. In case you do not know Hammer-ons, you must read this up. If you do know Hammer-ons, you can probably skip this part. Hammer-ons are pretty easy. You just play a note on a string and then on the same string, while the sound is still heard, you press (hit) another fret hard so that the sound of that fret is now heard. This is pretty easy. All you need is practice. In guitar tabs, it's denoted by the letter "h" preceded by the fret to play and followed by the fret to hit. Like this:
Pull-offs. Pull-offs are another useful thing to know. You need to know this to know trills. Again, if you know it already, you can skip this part. Pull-offs need you to play a fret on a string, behind which (towards the neck on the same string) you need to keep a string pressed. The trick is that while the sound of the higher fret is still ringing out, you need to pull you finger of that fret fast, so that the sound of the lower fret which your finger has pressed should be heard. It's like the opposite of a Hammer-on. In tabs, it is denoted by the letter "p" preceded by the fret you have to pull your finger of and followed by the fret you have to pull-off to (keep pressed behind the higher fret). Like this:
Once you get the hang of Pull-off and Hammer-ons, go on reading ahead. Trills. Hammer-ons and Pull-offs, when combined together, form a Trill. Trills are really pleasant to hear and can be used in many ways, especially in solos which are a part of emotional slow songs. See the following example:
Now try playing it like this:
The [5h6p5] part and the other ones like it become really quite easier to play. Trills reduce the effort that your playing hand uses to play the [5-6-5] notes separately. Plus it sounds different, adding some variation to your playing too. So, that's how trills are used. The song "Snow" by RHCP also uses trills in the song's main riff. It sounds really good. You should check it out. Thanks a lot for viewing this lesson. I hope it helped you! (P.S. this is my first lesson, so take it easy on me guys.)

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Guitar IS a percussion instrument (as well as a string instrument). Just like a piano is, just happens to be tuned percussion. Trill is the term used when you rapidly alternate between two (usually adjacent) notes. This means you do it several times, btw. A trill is a type of 'ornament'. Ornaments are (usually) fast little phrases that decorate and give character to a melody. There are several main types of ornament; THE TRILL - Repeatedly alternating two notes. THE MORDENT - Split into two types, upper and lower mordents. An upper mordent is where you play the a note, then an adjacent higher note, then return to the original note. A lower mordent is where a note is played, followed by a lower note, then the first note again. This is what is incorrectly described as a "trill" in this article and by 'Pablo Hunni 420'. THE TURN - A turn is like an extended mordent - a note is played, followed by a higher note, then again the first note, then a lower note, and back to the first note. For example, the notes could be BCBAB. An inverted turn (akin to a lower mordent) is a turn tha moves in the other direction (eg BABCB). ENCLOSURE - Not classically considered an ornament, enclosures are when you play the note above your target note, leap to the note below your target note then play the target note (can also be done the other way round). The enclosure is usually chromatic and is a technique used by soloists in Jazz music. GRACE NOTES - A grace note is a short note that leads into a main melody note. Sometimes called 'approach tones' in jazz. There are several types of grace note; Appoggiatura (longer, more melodic, more legato), Accacciatura (very short, crushed sounding, staccato, perhaps clashing), slide (quickly slide from three or four frets below (or occasionally above) the target note, the note slid from is often not notated, instead the direction to slide from is notated). GLISSANDO - A glissando is a slide from one melody note to another, briefly playing all chromatic (diatonic on piano, usually) notes between the two. Interestingly, BB King describes his vibrato as 'trilling'. Wonder what came first, the name of the bird that sings a trill or the name of the ornament that named the bird...
    I may have been taught wrong, but arent you just describing using a hammer-on quickly fallowed by a pull-off.... not really a trill. a trill is typically a quick alternation between two notes, usually a whole tone or semitone apart, something like this: |--5h7p5h7p5h7--| or |--5h6p5h6p5h6--| If I'm wrong (and I am willing to admit it if you can show me proof that I am) I appologize. however I've only been taught that you hammer on and pull off multiple times to create a trill, and Ive been playing for nine or ten years now...
    This is my first lesson and I was just trying to help people with the basic stuff. I'll remember to check the dictionary before uploading another lesson. Thanks!
    no problem, I was just confused. overall its a good lesson, but I would have named the lesson "hammer-ons and pull-offs" or "solo techniques", something like that.
    You can trill between any number of notes you want. BTW. Try playing some Bosnian folk music, that shit uses trills like water.
    Who cares what the definition is, just take what was posted and learn from it, not argue over something that won't really get you anywhere. Go play the guitar.
    hmmm, I was about to respond to Pablo Hunni 420 , but it looks like Hydra150 beat me to it, and did a way beter job than what I could have done...
    Pablo Hunni 420
    What's funny is that every definition this guy posted proved him wrong. "A rapid alteration of two adjacent tones" - This says nothing about how many times the alteration occurs. "A shake, vibrato, rapid "reiteration" of the same tone especially on a percussion instrument" Because we ALL know the guitar is a percussion instrument. "Quavering or vibratory sound, rapid alternation of sung or played notes. Verb Quavering or warbling sound." which is pretty much more of the same. It STILL doesn't account for the fact that a "H-on-P-off" does exactly what he is saying it doesn't. You can have such a slow vibrato that in the time you take to play it you perform a micro bend a 1/4 to a 1/2 step up and back down at the same speed and do the same as a"H-on-P-off" and it would be considered a trill. We get it you play guitar long time. Don't try to talk crap on a helpful article to make yourself feel better.
    fair enough, but can you show me a reference? not looking for a song but a definition, since this is from
    Music . a rapid alternation of two adjacent tones; a shake.
    thats the one definition that says related to music (there were like ten of them on there)but all the other definitions say pretty much the same thing, a rapid alteration would imply more than just up then back down once.... heres one from Miriam Webster
    2trillnoun Definition of TRILL 1a : the alternation of two musical tones a diatonic second apart called also shake b : vibrato c : a rapid reiteration of the same tone especially on a percussion instrument
    from google's definition:
    trill/tril/Noun: A quavering or vibratory sound, esp. a rapid alternation of sung or played notes. Verb: Produce a quavering or warbling sound.
    The trill (or shake, as it was known from the 16th until the 19th century) is a musical ornament consisting of a rapid alternation between two adjacent notes, usually a semitone or tone apart, which can be identified with the context of the trill.
    look I'm not trying to say it's definately wrong but every single one of these seem to imply that you don't just hammer-on once then pull-off once, but you do it multiple times over and over.
    metalhead 2000
    I can trill only for like three times then it gets quieter and i cant hear any sound could someone please tell me why does it happen so and how can i overcome it?
    I write post-rock type of music so trills are great for all things, I use fast trills mixed with a tremolo/vibe petal to get a really big kind of sound that adds to the walls of sounded used. I also use quarter note trills to get these simple yet complex sounding kind of melodies for all the slow parts. It's easy to do and can help extend a melody out quite a bit. Start with a simple 1, 2, 3, 4 for a bar or two then for the 1 and 3 add that quarter note trill up a semi tone then do it on all of them as the song builds then when the wall of sound hits you do the crazy trill which someone argued above was the correct term. As said here, I use the same trill technique often for melodies at a quarter note trill speed to add flavour then the full on trill to create a harsh noise. So you;re both right. either way, this technique is fantastic.
    Just Googled and turns out I was wrong, theres no type of bird called a 'trill'. Wonder where I got that idea from. ... the rest of the shit I just wrote is correct though.
    i can do a h/p h/p say one string say e -5&7 repeatedly then a/d/g/b/e and up and down fast i need to know how to figure out where to add the bends and slides and stuff that will make my trills sound like a solo and not a scale, i've been playing for 4 months now and need to progress with what I'm learning, any help would be appreciated thx-jeff
    @Hydra150 I think you were getting at 'what came first; the musical term for trill or calling a bird song a trill?' To which the answer is neither; trill comes from the Old English word for 'vibration' ("trillen") before musical notation and specific terminology existed. My pedantry aside, fantastic post, you nailed the essence of it, and then some. @metalhead 2000 Practice. With finger strength and proper timing you can sustain a note with hammer-ons and pull-offs. Also using a tremolo arm can accomplish something similar, albeit a different sound and technique.