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Tremolo notation (denoting rapid repetition)
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Play (variation in volume) Tremolo notation.svg
Tremolo notation (denoting rapid repetition)

In music, tremolo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtrɛːmolo] ), or tremolando ( [tremoˈlando] ), is a trembling effect. There are multiple types of tremolo: a rapid repetition of a note, an alternation between two different notes, or a variation in volume.


Tremolos may be either measured, in which the exact rate of repetition or oscillation is specified, or unmeasured, in which it is not (the understanding being in that case that it should be performed as rapidly as possible).

Types of tremolo

Rapid reiteration or oscillation

The rapid reiteration of a single note is a characteristic effect of bowed string instruments, obtained by rapidly moving the bow back and forth. However, the technique may be performed on any instrument on which it is practicable. (Indeed, a slow measured tremolo is simply a shorthand notation for an ordinary repetition of notes; thus, tremolo notation may appear in written music for any instrument.)

The notation for this effect consists of one or more strokes drawn through the stem of a note (or, if the note lacks a stem, through the position that a hypothetical stem would occupy); the strokes correspond to the beams that would connect the individual repeated notes if they were to be written out, thereby representing the rate of repetition (i.e. the speed of the tremolo).

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

Some special cases are worth noting:

A rapid alternation between two different pitches is another type of tremolo. On bowed string instruments, this is referred to as a fingered tremolo to distinguish it from the bowed tremolo discussed above; but once again it may be performed on any instrument. It is notated by writing the pitches to be alternated as a melodic interval, with both notes receiving the rhythmic value of the total duration of the tremolo (e.g. two half-notes for a tremolo lasting a half-note), and then either connecting them with beams, or else interpolating strokes, with the number of beams or strokes corresponding to the speed of the tremolo (e.g. a tremolo in thirty-second notes lasting a half-note would be written either as two open noteheads connected by three beams, or as two half-notes with three strokes interpolated).

Tremolo examples (alternating notes) Tremolo notation two notes.svg
Tremolo examples (alternating notes)

This type of tremolo includes the trill as a special case: a trill is simply an unmeasured tremolo between two notes separated by the interval of a major or minor second (whole- or half step). Thus, a tremolo in this sense is a generalization of a trill to any interval, and to include measured durations.

Amplitude variation

Video of a tremolo effect pedal, producing a cycling variation of volume, played with an electric guitar

A separate type of tremolo is a variation in amplitude:

Tremolo is sometimes used interchangeably with vibrato. However, a tremolo is a variation of volume (or amplitude); as contrasted with vibrato, which is a variation of pitch (or frequency).

"Vibrato" channel on a 1960s Fender Pro Amp Brownface electric guitar amp. The effect produced is actually a tremolo. Fender Pro Amp brownface (1960s, pre-CBS) front panel - mid.jpg
"Vibrato" channel on a 1960s Fender Pro Amp Brownface electric guitar amp. The effect produced is actually a tremolo.

Some electric guitars (in particular the Fender Stratocaster) use a lever called a "tremolo arm" [3] 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. [3] 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, or in terms of analog synthesis, a VCA under control of an LFO. Electronic tremolo effects were available on many early guitar amplifiers. Fender named them Vibrato, adding to the confusion between the two terms. [4] Tremolo effects pedals are also widely used to achieve this effect.

Most settings on a tremolo effects pedal include depth of the tremolo (sometimes called intensity) and speed of the tremolo. Some models allow to choose the shape of the waveform (sine wave, triangle wave, square wave). [5]


Although it had already been employed as early as 1617 by Biagio Marini and again in 1621 by Giovanni Battista Riccio, [6] the bowed tremolo was invented in 1624 by the early 17th-century composer Claudio Monteverdi, [7] [8] 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. [8] However, it was not till the time of Gluck that the real tremolo[ clarification needed ] became an accepted method of tone production. [9] 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. [10]

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. [8]

There is some speculation that tremolo was employed in medieval Welsh harp music, as indicated in the transcription by Robert ap Huw. [11]


In musical notation, unmeasured tremolo is usually notated as regular repeated notes -- measured tremolo -- of very short duration: so short as to preclude confusion with an actual measured tremolo. Commonly, for example, the duration used will be demisemiquavers (thirty-second notes). In this case, there will be three strokes through the stems of the notes, except on notes which already have beams or flags: quavers (eighth notes) then take two 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.

In slower tempos (and/or meters with larger denominators), notes of shorter duration (corresponding to additional strokes) would be used. To eliminate 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.

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

As shown above, a minim (half note)-based tremolo is sometimes drawn with beams connecting the two notes together rather than interpolated bars (strokes).

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Effects unit</span> Electronic device that alters audio

An effects unit, effects processor, 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 equivalent to portamento, which is a continuous, seamless glide between notes. In other contexts, it refers to discrete, stepped glides across notes, such as on a piano. Some terms that are similar or equivalent in some contexts are slide, sweepbend, smear, rip, lip, plop, or falling hail. On wind instruments, a scoop is a glissando ascending to the onset of a note achieved entirely with the embouchure, except on instruments that have a slide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Violin</span> Bowed string instrument

The violin, colloquially known as a fiddle, is a wooden chordophone, and is the smallest, and thus highest-pitched instrument (soprano) in regular use in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body, and commonly 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 characterized in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation and the speed with which the pitch is varied.

The trill is a musical ornament consisting of a rapid alternation between two adjacent notes, usually a semitone or tone apart, which can be identified with the context of the trill. It is sometimes referred to by the German Triller, the Italian trillo, the French trille or the Spanish trino. A cadential trill is a trill associated with each cadence. A trill provides rhythmic interest, melodic interest, and—through dissonance—harmonic interest. Sometimes it is expected that the trill will end with a turn, or some other variation. Such variations are often marked with a few appoggiaturas following the note bearing the trill indication.

A variety of musical terms are encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian, in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by Fr. and Ger., respectively.

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.

A vibrato system on a guitar is a mechanical device used to temporarily change the pitch of the strings. 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. Instruments without a vibrato have other bridge and tailpiece systems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vibrato unit</span>

A vibrato unit is an electronic effects unit used to add vibrato to the sound of an electric instrument, most often an electric guitar. Vibrato units may be individual stomp boxes or built into multi-effects units, but are traditionally built into guitar amplifiers. Vibrato units are particularly used in surf music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of guitars</span> Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Violin technique</span> Details of violin playing technique

Playing the violin entails holding the instrument between the jaw and the collar bone. The strings are sounded either by drawing the bow across them (arco), or by plucking them (pizzicato). The left hand regulates the sounding length of the strings by stopping them against the fingerboard with the fingers, producing different pitches.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical guitar technique</span>

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.

Vocalists are capable of producing a variety of extended technique sounds. These alternative singing techniques have been used extensively in the 20th century, especially in art song and opera. Particularly famous examples of extended vocal technique can be found in the music of Luciano Berio, John Cage, George Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies, Hans Werner Henze, György Ligeti, Demetrio Stratos, Meredith Monk, Giacinto Scelsi, Arnold Schoenberg, Salvatore Sciarrino, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tim Foust, Avi Kaplan, and Trevor Wishart.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bridge (instrument)</span> Part of a stringed instrument

A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which transfers the sound to the surrounding air. Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood, metal or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sixteenth note</span> Musical note duration

In music, a 1/16, sixteenth note (American) or semiquaver (British) is a note played for half the duration of an eighth note (quaver), hence the names. It is the equivalent of the semifusa in mensural notation, first found in 15th-century notation.

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.

Tremolo, in electronics, is the variation in amplitude of sound achieved through electronic means, sometimes mistakenly called vibrato, and producing a sound somewhat reminiscent of flanging, referred to as an "underwater effect". A variety of means are available to achieve the effect. For further information about the use of tremolo in music, including notation, see Tremolo.

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.


  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. 1 2 Hunter, Dave (2013-11-16). The Fender Stratocaster: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Guitar and Its Players. Quarto Publishing Group USA. p. 221. ISBN   978-1-61058-878-2.
  4. Teagle, John; Sprung, John (1995). Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 225. ISBN   978-0-7935-3733-4.
  5. Hunter, Dave (2011-02-01). The Rough Guide to Guitar. Rough Guides UK. p. 311. ISBN   978-1-4053-8873-3.
  6. David Fallows, "Tremolo (i)", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , second edition, ISBN   9781561592395.
  7. Weiss and Taruskin (1984). Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, p. 146. ISBN   0-02-872900-5.
  8. 1 2 3 Forsyth 1982, p. 348.
  9. Forsyth 1982, p. 349.
  10. Forsyth 1982, p. 350.
  11. 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.
  12. Forsyth 1982, p. 358.
  13. Forsyth 1982, p. 362.


Further reading