Fixing a Faulty Trill – Dr. G’s Top Five Trill Etude Recommendations

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! This week’s blog will be similar to last week’s discussion on recommended etudes that isolate certain flute playing challenges. One of the items on my own list of New Year’s flute resolutions is to tighten and improve my trill game. Although they seem so basic, it is super easy to fall into the trap of playing lethargic or uneven trills. Why? Because they are often ignored. How many times have you simply wrote “faster” above a trill in your music to fix a faulty trill? Did it work? Or were you simply putting a band-aid on a larger problem? (*I am definitely guilty as charged!) In today’s blog, I will highlight my top five favorite etudes to work on trills. Remember that one of the best ways to improve trills is by taking the pressure off of the trilling key. To do this, use a slightly firmer grip on the depressed key adjacent to the trilled key (for example, put slightly more pressure on the 2nd finger of your left hand while trilling a middle register G). Like everything, practice makes perfect (even when it comes to trills!).

Dr. G’s. Top Five Trill Etude Recommendations

  1. Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Big Daily Finger Exercises for the Flute, Exercise #17. If there was ever a Gold Standard trill exercise, this would be it! This exercise takes you through all trills from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high (or at least a top octave C – trills beyond this are rare). Make sure you have a great resource handy to look up trill fingering for some of the third octave ones that receive less air time (like high A’s and B’s). There are several fingering charts available online but I always like to have James Pellerite’s A Modern Guide to Fingerings for the Flute within arm’s reach. Taffanel and Gaubert remove all other technical obstacles in this exercise so you many focus solely on the evenness of the trills themselves. Take notes as you practice these. Which ones are easier than others? Which tend to be naturally slower and/or uneven? Slow them down and speed up gradually.
  1. Koehler’s Eight Studies, Opus 33, Exercise #8. Word of warning – this one is a doozy! Koehler’s exercise takes us through a variety of different durations of trills, some with grace notes, some without, some with accidentals and some with virtuosic runs extending into upper registers. This etude requires you to figure out how best to place your trill into the context of larger and (much) smaller beats. Take it slowly at first to work out all of the ever-changing accidentals. Make sure not to linger too much on your trills that there is no space for the grace notes that follow. Strive to keep your trills virtuosic but still controlled and even.
  1. Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies, Page 52-53, Andante “Exercise on Trills.”
    The name says it all – this is a trill exercise! This is a much more melodic, toned down version of the Koehler exercise. Featuring dotted rhythms, the trills in this etude are primarily quarter notes (with a few eighth notes thrown in for variety) and feature very few grace notes. This is a good one to practice in preparation for the Koehler. What I love about this etude is that it is short and can be practiced on a regular basis (dare say, even from memory for an extra challenge). I also like that it features trills in the middle and lower registers, which often naturally sound a bit more lethargic than high register trills. This is a great exercise for working on these “tubby” registers.
  1. Theobald Boehm’s 24 Melodious Studies, Exercise #15. Now that you have mastered some of the more technical examples of trill playing, Boehm will ask you to play your trills with grace and beauty. This exercise features trills of a variety of durations, including dotted eighth trills at the beginning and toward the end of the page. Like the Koehler, it is important not to linger too long on the shorter trills that you take rhythmic space away from the notes that follow. Above all, keep your trills even yet lyrical. Sing these trills! Dolce after all means to play “sweetly.” How sweet can you make your trills?
  1. Furstenau’s Groupings of Keys (Ed. Marcel Moyse), Exercise #21. This exercise is essentially a cadenza. Your trills, therefore, typically lead into a virtuosic line for you to perform your best technical gymnastics. What your trills need here is energy. Of course keep them even. Of course keep them spinning. But now also add a bit of flavor! I like to think of these trills as the fuse that is ignited on a firework. Quiet, sustained anticipation leading to an impressive light show! The quality of your trill will heighten this anticipation but also help show your audience where the line is leading. Experiment with tone colors here. It may be marked “pp” but ask yourself how you can add a bit of sparkle to your trill using your sound. Be creative and think outside of the trill box!


What is your favorite trill exercise? Do you have a favorite exercise that is missing from this list? Do you have any great tips to work on trills? Do you struggle making your trills even? Please comment below!

Happy fluting (and trilling)!


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