Playing trills

When a trill is marked, should I start on the note itself and alternate quickly with that and the note one tone higher, or should I start on the higher note and alternate quickly with the one written?

Most of the time you will start on the written note and trill up to the next note in the key, known as the upper auxiliary. It’s important to note the key signature, as a trill on E could be to F or F#, a trill does not mean a half step. The upper auxiliary can be altered by tr~# or tr~b (flat).

I say mostly, because it does depend on when the music was written. Baroque trills start on the upper auxiliary and trill down to the written note. There’s also issue if the note is dotted as well, you stop trilling on the dot. To know if the piece is Baroque, note the composer and hopefully included birth-death years, as the Baroque period was approximately 1600 to 1750.


Thank you - that’s very helpful. I’ve been working through some free online theory courses and this page ( seemed to show that the trill starts on the higher note, but I was sure I remembered from piano lessons, forty years ago, that you start on the note itself.

daviderato spelled it out perfectly. You may rarely see a grace note attached to the trilled note indicating to start on the note above. A trick I learned for trilling notes that involve all 6 holes covered and trilling with the left hand pinky is-- hold the clarinet firmly and shake your left arm as opposed to the pinky. You get a faster, more solid trill. Only works for a few trills of course.

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