Wednesday, September 01, 2004


A tremolo is a “quick and continuous reiteration of a single pitch” (The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed., 905). For string instruments, this effect is created by quick up and down strokes of their bows. This effect was first used in the early 17th century and it remains in use today. Also, another type of tremolo is utilized by string players called the slurred tremolo. This is similar to the regular tremolo except the player does not change the direction of the bow, which created a more connected sound. Also, string players can use fingered tremolos, which is created by moving the fingers quickly across the fingerboard. The yet another type of string tremolo is the undulating tremolo. This is created by fingering the same pitch on two strings and then oscillating between them with the bow. The term tremolo was also meant vibrato in the 18th century and it can also mean trill.

For pianists, it is the quick repetition of a single pitch. In Liszt’s La Campanella, it occurs in repeated octaves. This creates an effect much like that of a string tremolo.

For organists, tremolo is used in the context of a tremulant stop. A tremulant stop affects the wind supply to the organs to cause fluctuations in the pressures to the wind-chests, which produces and effect much like a vibrato (905).

For singers, a tremolo usually refers to the excessive amount of vibrato. It was widely used in the 17th century, but is rarely used now. In fact, it was disparagingly called a goat’s trill in the 18th century (905).