Last updated
Tremolo notation
Play (0:05)
Normal technique (0:05) Tremolo notation.svg
Tremolo notation
Video of a tremolo effect pedal, producing a cycling variation of volume, played with an electric guitar

In music, tremolo (Italian pronunciation:  [ˈtrɛːmolo] ), or tremolando ( [tremoˈlando] ), is a trembling effect. There are two types of tremolo.


The first is a rapid reiteration:

A second type of tremolo is a variation in amplitude:

Some electric guitars use a (misnamed) lever called a "tremolo arm" or "whammy bar" that allows a performer to lower or (usually, to some extent) raise the pitch of a note or chord, an effect properly termed vibrato or "pitch bend". This non-standard use of the term "tremolo" refers to pitch rather than amplitude. However, the term "trem" or "tremolo" is still used to refer to a bridge system built for a whammy bar, or the bar itself. True tremolo for an electric guitar, electronic organ, or any electronic signal would normally be produced by a simple amplitude modulation electronic circuit. Electronic tremolo effects were available on many early guitar amplifiers. Tremolo effects pedals are also widely used to achieve this effect.


Tremolo examples Page 15 Ex.4 (A Dictionary of Music and Musicians-Volume 1).png
Tremolo examples

Although it had already been employed as early as 1617 by Biagio Marini and again in 1621 by Giovanni Battista Riccio, [3] the bowed tremolo was invented in 1624 by the early 17th-century composer Claudio Monteverdi, [4] [5] and, written as repeated semiquavers (sixteenth notes), used for the stile concitato effects in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda . The measured tremolo, presumably played with rhythmic regularity, was invented to add dramatic intensity to string accompaniment and contrast with regular tenuto strokes. [5] However, it was not till the time of Gluck that the real tremolo[ clarification needed ] became an accepted method of tone production. [6] Four other types of historical tremolos include the obsolete undulating tremolo, the bowed tremolo, the fingered tremolo (or slurred tremolo), and the bowed-and-fingered tremolo. [7]

The undulating tremolo was produced through the fingers of the right hand alternately exerting and relaxing pressure upon the bow to create a "very uncertain–undulating effect ... But it must be said that, unless violinists have wholly lost the art of this particular stroke, the result is disappointing and futile in the extreme," though it has been suggested that rather than as a legato stroke it was done as a series of jetés. [5]

There is some speculation [8] that tremolo was employed in medieval Welsh harp music, as indicated in the transcription by Robert ap Huw.


In musical notation, tremolo is usually notated as regular repeated demisemiquavers (thirty-second notes), using strokes through the stems of the notes. Generally, there are three strokes, except on notes which already have beams or flags: quavers (eighth notes) then take two additional slashes, and semiquavers (sixteenth notes) take one.

Tremolo notation.svg

In the case of semibreves (whole notes), which lack stems, the strokes or slashes are drawn above or below the note, where the stem would be if there were one.

Because there is ambiguity as to whether an unmeasured tremolo or regular repeated demisemiquavers (thirty-second notes) should be played, the word tremolo or the abbreviation trem., is sometimes added. In slower music when there is a real chance of confusion, additional strokes can be used.

If the tremolo is between two or more notes, both notes are given the full value of the passage and the bars are drawn between them:

Tremolo notation two notes.svg

In some music a minim-based (half note) tremolo is drawn with the strokes connecting the two notes together as if they were beams.

Bowed string instruments

Violin fingered tremolo; notice the joining of strokes and stems is different for different time values, and that some notes shorter than eighth notes are written out, such as the last thirty-second notes on the last beat of measure three:

Fingered tremolo notation. Fingered-tremolo.png
Fingered tremolo notation.

Violin bowed-and-fingered tremolo, notated the same as fingered tremolo but without slurs and with staccato above the staff:

Bowed-and-fingered tremolo notation Bowed-and-fingered-tremolo.png
Bowed-and-fingered tremolo notation

See also

Related Research Articles

Effects unit Electronic device that alters audio

An effects unit or effects pedal is an electronic device that alters the sound of a musical instrument or other audio source through audio signal processing.

In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, "to glide". In some contexts, it is distinguished from the continuous portamento. Some colloquial equivalents are slide, sweep, bend, smear, rip, lip, plop, or falling hail.

Violin Bowed string instrument

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden chordophone in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and thus highest-pitched instrument (soprano) in the family in regular use. The violin typically has four strings,, usually tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings. It can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and, in specialized cases, by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterised in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation and the speed with which the pitch is varied.

Floyd Rose

The Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo, or simply Floyd Rose, is a type of locking vibrato arm for a guitar. Floyd D. Rose invented the locking vibrato in 1976, the first of its kind, and it is now manufactured by a company of the same name. The Floyd Rose gained popularity in the 1980s through guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Neal Schon, Brad Gillis, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Alex Lifeson, who used its ability to stay in tune even with extreme changes in pitch. Its tuning stability comes through the double-locking design that has been widely regarded as revolutionary; the design has been listed on Guitar World's "10 Most Earth Shaking Guitar Innovations" and Guitar Player's "101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1979–1983."

A pull-off is a stringed instrument playing and articulation technique performed by plucking or "pulling" the finger that is grasping the sounding part of a string off the fingerboard of either a fretted or unfretted instrument. This intermediate- to advanced playing technique is done using the tip of a finger or fingernail on the fretting hand. Pull-offs are done to facilitate the playing of embellishments and ornaments such as grace notes. Pull-offs may be notated in sheet music or improvised by the performer, depending on the musical style and context.

A slur is a symbol in Western musical notation indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played without separation. A slur is denoted with a curved line generally placed over the notes if the stems point downward, and under them if the stems point upwards.

Prime functions of the slur in keyboard music...are to delineate the extent of a phrase line and to indicate the legato performance of melodies or arpeggiated chords.

Both accents and slurs relate directly to woodwind articulation...(and brass as well) [since they] employ a variety of tonguing effects [which are indicated by use of, "the correct form," of accents and slurs].

[With bowed string instruments] A curved slur over or under two or more notes indicates that these notes are to be connected...Slurs are only partially indicative of phrasing; if an actual phrase mark is necessary, it should be notated above the passage with broken lines.

Lead guitar is a musical part for a guitar in which the guitarist plays melody lines, instrumental fill passages, guitar solos, and occasionally, some riffs and chords within a song structure. The lead is the featured guitar, which usually plays single-note-based lines or double-stops. In rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, fusion, some pop, and other music styles, lead guitar lines are usually supported by a second guitarist who plays rhythm guitar, which consists of accompaniment chords and riffs.

A vibrato system on a guitar is a mechanical device used to temporarily change the pitch of the strings. Instruments without a vibrato have other bridge and tailpiece systems. They add vibrato to the sound by changing the tension of the strings, typically at the bridge or tailpiece of an electric guitar using a controlling lever, which is alternately referred to as a whammy bar, vibrato bar, or incorrectly as a tremolo arm. The lever enables the player to quickly and temporarily vary the tension and sometimes length of the strings, changing the pitch to create a vibrato, portamento, or pitch bend effect.


In music, strumming is a way of playing a stringed instrument such as a guitar, ukulele, or mandolin. A strum or stroke is a sweeping action where a finger or plectrum brushes over several strings to generate sound. On most stringed instruments, strums are typically executed by a musician's designated strum hand, while the remaining hand often supports the strum hand by altering the tones and pitches of any given strum.

Keyboard expression is the ability of a keyboard musical instrument to change tone or other qualities of the sound in response to velocity, pressure or other variations in how the performer depresses the keys of the musical keyboard. Expression types include:

Shred guitar Virtuoso lead guitar solo playing style

Shred guitar or shredding is a virtuoso lead guitar solo playing style for the guitar, based on various advanced and complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects. Shred guitar includes "fast alternate picking, sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse", It is commonly used in heavy metal guitar playing, where guitarists use the electric guitar with a guitar amplifier and a range of electronic effects such as distortion, which create a more sustained guitar tone and facilitate guitar feedback effects.

Finger vibrato is vibrato produced on a string instrument by cyclic hand movements. Despite the name, normally the entire hand moves, and sometimes the entire upper arm. It can also refer to vibrato on some woodwind instruments, achieved by lowering one or more fingers over one of the uncovered holes in a trill-like manner. This flattens the note periodically creating the vibrato.

Classical guitar technique

In classical guitar, the right hand is developed in such a way that it can sustain two, three, and four voice harmonies while also paying special attention to tone production. The index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers are generally used to play the melody, while the thumb (p) accompanies in the bass register adding harmony, and produces a comparable texture and effect to that of the piano. The classical guitar is a solo polyphonic instrument, and it is difficult to master.

Flamenco guitar Acoustic guitar used in Flamenco music

A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It usually has nylon strings, like the classical guitar, but it generally possesses a livelier, more gritty sound compared to the classical guitar. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.

Guitar picking

Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:

Finger substitution Musical performance technique

Finger substitution is a playing technique used on many different instruments, ranging from stringed instruments such as the violin and cello to keyboard instruments such as the piano and pipe organ. It involves replacing one finger which is depressing a string or key with another finger to facilitate the performance of a passage or create a desired tone or sound. The simplest type of finger substitution is when a finger replaces another finger during a rest; the more difficult type is to replace one finger with another while a note is being played.

On string instruments, a stopped note is a note whose pitch has been altered from the pitch of the open string by the player's left hand pressing (stopping) the string against the fingerboard.

Abbreviations in music are of two kinds, namely, abbreviations of terms related to musical expression, and the true musical abbreviations by the help of which certain passages, chords, etc., may be notated in a shortened form, to the greater convenience of both composer and performer. Abbreviations of the first kind are like most abbreviations in language; they consist for the most part of the initial letter or first syllable of the word employed—as for instance, p or f for the dynamic markings piano and forte, cresc. for crescendo, Ob. for oboe, Fag. for bassoon. This article is about abbreviations used in music notation. For abbreviations of terms related to musical expression and music in general, see Glossary of musical terminology.


  1. "Examples of Tremolo on Acoustic Guitar". Kapil Srivastava . Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved August 12, 2020.
  2. "Mandolin Glossary: Tremolo". Mandolin Cafe. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  3. David Fallows, "Tremolo (i)", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , second edition, ISBN   9781561592395.
  4. Weiss and Taruskin (1984). Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, p. 146. ISBN   0-02-872900-5.
  5. 1 2 3 Forsyth 1982, p. 348.
  6. Forsyth 1982, p. 349.
  7. Forsyth 1982, p. 350.
  8. Whittaker, Paul. "British Museum, Additional MS 14905; An Interpretation and Re-examination of the Music and Text" (PDF). Music of the Robert ap Huw Manuscript. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  9. Forsyth 1982, p. 358.
  10. Forsyth 1982, p. 362.


Further reading