How can you execute trills with ease and efficiency?
Two main techniques: WEIGHT TRANSFER and FOREARM ROTATION.
Trills played with only fingers are limited in terms of speed, efficiency and evenness of tone/sound. But with forearm rotation and transfer of weight, playing trills can be fun and easy (I always joke with my students that I can play a trill for 5 minutes on the right hand while enjoying a cup of coffee the left hand).
I think I haven’t discussed much about the application of forearm rotation and weight transfer in any post here if ever (more details of this and other crucial techniques can be found in my hopefully new blog/soon-to-be published FREE ebook on piano technique). I want to stress now that ANY technique discussed in this post and any other posts from now on would involve more than one set of muscles/parts in the whole arm, therefore when I say forearm in this post, it means the forearm is the muscle that initiates the most part of the action, with other muscles of the arm backing up.
Now, the techniques we are discussing here are of more advanced level. First thing is, from now onwards you have to understand that playing the piano is not merely finger movement. It involves the whole body, but certainly the hands (fingers, palms, wrists) are the parts that are most foremost and active, with support from the forearms, upper arms, and shoulders, and energy generating energy from upper body and then lower body.
The main reason that most players have difficulty playing a smooth trill is because they only activate the fingers to play it. They do it by picking up the fingers very high one by one, using one separate energy for each note Sure, they can play it that way, but it’s not going to be very fast or even, and they will also strain their fingers and hands doing that. As a matter of fact, a lot of players experience a strain in their palms and forearms as well.
Thus, in order to execute a trill efficiently, one needs to incorporate both weight transfer and forearm rotation.
Let us start with weight transfer. The concept of weight transfer can be easily understood but difficult to incorporate on the keyboard.
Imagine walking. We transfer our whole bodily weight from one foot to another, so that we can move forward. The same goes for the fingers. In order to play efficiently, we have to move the whole weight from one finger to another. Another example would be two persons riding a see-saw. When one goes all the way down, the other goes all the way up, and vice versa. If no one goes all the way up/down and they both stay in the middle, then there is no more movement.
As a matter of fact, weight transfer is the most important concept in all aspects of piano technique. It is necessary in EVERYTHING not only confined to trills alone. We shall take further about this in other posts.
Now, if you understand this concept of weight transfer, you can incorporate it with the other concept: forearm rotation.
Forearm rotation is definitive in executing a fast and efficient trill.
Let me explain briefly why it is the case.
There are two sets of muscles in each forearm, the upper side (flexor) and lower side (extensor). When one picks up the fingers one by one with separate force, one is only using/tensing up the flexor muscle. With forearm rotation, one utilises both sets of forearm muscles alternately, so that when the flexor tenses the extensor is able to relax, and vice versa. There will be consecutive tension and relaxation and therefore no more constant straining on only one set of the muscle.
Certainly, when executing a forearm rotation, the is a bit of rotation happening in the upper arm too. But in order to make it simple for now, just think keep the upper arm and shoulder loose and easy for the forearm rotation.
In order to execute a rotation in the forearm, the upper arm remain stable, so that it does not sway in and out during the forearm rotation. Imagine you are turning the door knob, to the right (clockwise), and to the left (anti-clockwise). You rotate at the axis which is the center of the arm without swaying the elbow in and out as well. The biggest angle of the rotational movement occurs at the forearm and the hand only. And we do not fold our wrist; instead, keep the wrist in line with the forearm and hand so that they all form one straight line together and rotate together.
Now, I will try to explain the two techniques (weight transfer and forearm rotation) together in the simplest way possible.
Let’s say we are executing a trill with index (2) and middle (3) fingers of the right hand on the notes D and E consecutively. When we play D with the index finger, we put ALL THE WEIGHT under it while at the same time rotate the forearm to the left/inward towards the upper body, with elbow sticking out to the outside away from the upper body slightly. Then, when we play E with the middle finger, we TRANSFER all the weight under it from the index finger, rotating the forearm to the right, with the elbow coming in towards the upper body. This sequence of weight transfer and forearm rotation continues for whole period of time as long as when we keep playing the trill.
For even easier understanding of such concept, let me show you in the videos below:
How to execute an efficient trills: Part 1
How to execute an efficient trill (Part 2) – at a different angle
How to execute an efficient trill (part 3) – focus on the forearm rotation movement
Until next time,