Trills, Shakes and Tremolos


Standard half-step trills are easily played across the trumpet’s entire range using the valves. Whole-step trills can be tricky depending on the pitches and fingerings used. Listed below are the more technically awkward whole-step trills on the trumpet.

Awkward does not mean impossible! All of these trills can be performed, they just might not be very clean or fast.

Tremolos and trills over intervals larger than a whole step are also possible, though they become increasingly difficult as the interval expands. Tremolos across large intervals are clumsy and difficult to play quickly and cleanly.

Lip Trills

A lip trill is achieved by rapidly oscillating between two adjacent overtones of the same series. Lip trills are most commonly used in the upper register, though are also possible in the lower notes of the overtone series. As with trills and tremolos, the larger the interval the more difficult and clumsy they become.

Other pitches are also possible with lip trills using the six other fingering positions.


The shake technique clearly has its origins in jazz. This technique is very similar to a lip trill, but instead of using the embouchure to achieve the trill, the player actually physically shakes the instrument while playing. The result is a somewhat messier and wilder trill than the lip trill.

Single-pitch Tremolos (Bisbigliando)

The term “bisbigliando” was originally used in harp notation to indicate a tremolo on two strings with the same pitch. On the trumpet, you can achieve a similar effect by rapidly switching to an alternate fingering and then back again on the same pitch. The intonation and sound color of the two fingerings is usually slightly different, which is why this is also sometimes referred to as a “timbral trill”.

In the example below the player would switch between the normal fingering for g´ (open) and the alternate (valves 1 and 3). Note that not all pitches have alternate fingerings. Because tremolo notation can look like flutter or doodle tongue, the word “tremolo”, “trem.” or “bisbigl.” should be added for clarity.

Bisbigliando on c’. Notice the slight difference in intonation between the two fingerings.

The valve tremolo was famously used by Stockhausen as a means of articulation on a single note in much of his brass writing:

Stockhausen’s “Halt”, measure 26. The lower line represents dynamics. The dotted line (with fingering in parentheses) indicates half-valve.
© Stockhausen-Stiftung für Musik, Kürten

More Single Note Tremolos

If you absolutely need a single note tremolo on a pitch not listed above, don’t despair! Here are a few alternatives:

  • Doodle tongue – sounds a bit like a tremolo and is easy to implement on any pitch.
  • Half-Valve tremolo – while this might not work perfectly on every note, its a viable alternative for most pitches not listed above
  • Double-Bell tremolo – by rapidly switching between bells on the double-bell trumpet, a single note tremolo is possible on any pitch. I certainly wouldn’t suggest writing for this instrument solely for that effect, but I still thought it was worth mentioning here.

Gold Star Example

In this notable (and harrowing) excerpt, Ligeti makes good use of the trumpet’s abilities in regards to trills, lip trills and tremolos.

“Mysteries of the Macabre” by György Ligeti (version for trumpet and piano)
© Mit freundlicher Genehmigung SCHOTT MUSIC, Mainz.
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2 Responses to Trills, Shakes and Tremolos

  1. Juha-Pekka Kuusela says:

    How you notate shake?

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