I Finally Admit I’m Powerless with Trills

Working on Technique in Adult Piano Lessons

The Chopin nocturne I’m currently studying—the C-sharp minor—is bursting with trills. In this work that spans about three minutes in performance, there are none other than eight of those tricky decorations. When I first saw in my Henle Urtext edition the bolded, italicized tr labels resolutely capping so many notes, I felt dismayed. Oh no, I thought, I’m terrible at trills. I must be the only amateur performer with this debilitating shortcoming.

I often compare myself to other people. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a single Bikram yoga class without glancing at others in the mirror to see how they are doing the posture, even though I’ve been taking yoga for 10 years and have long since learned that true yogis, centered in themselves, don’t care that the woman in front bends her back almost parallel to the ground.

My first step was to admit that even though I love classical piano music, I have this teensy-weensy, basic problem that I’m not entirely sure of the technique required to execute a trill. Somehow, I learned how to play a piano without mastering trills. I am weak-kneed when it comes to trills.

At my adult piano lesson, I coughed with embarrassment, then pointed to a particularly nasty E-trill in the 49th measure in which Chopin had indicated fingers one and three ought to spin between E and F-sharp. “I’m not really sure how to play this,” I admitted.

Stephen, my piano teacher, really more a shockingly youthful guide in this adventure of adult piano lessons, did not seem at all fazed. Here are the tips he gave me:

  • Relax your palm and fingers (if playing the Chopin nocturne had not already put you in a state of dreamy relaxation)
  • When you play the trill, keep your fingers on the key surface (in other words, don’t press the keys down hard)
  • Feel the resistance in the keys when you play the notes
  • Rock your wrist back and forth slightly to gain speed in the trill

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on making my hand limp before I place my fingers over the keys to practice a trill. Sometimes the back of my hand tightens and the trills sound harsh and plodding. Yet just last night, I was rewarded when my fingers, almost of their own volition, pulsed a warbling, lighthearted sound.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.


  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK8hvG7LaKU

    How did I do on those trills Nancy? Good toi see your website!
    Best regards,

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