Guitar trill technique is frequently used as an exercise by students starting out, or trying to improve, their legato technique.
And while trills do make a good exercise, one shouldn’t miss the fact that they’re also a very expressive melodic ornament you can use in your guitar riffs, licks, and solos.
In this lesson you’ll learn how to play guitar trills and how you can use them in your music.
What is a guitar trill?
A guitar trill is a fast alteration between two notes on the same string, through a series of hammer-ons and pull offs.
The distance between these notes is the interval of a minor second (one fret), a major second (two frets), or (rarely) a minor third (3 frets).
The example above can be used, in different variations, as an exercise to improve your legato technique.
In today’s lesson we’ll go a step further than using guitar trills as an exercise and explore their use as a melodic ornament through two guitar licks, two guitar riffs, and a short guitar solo.
What is an ornament?
In music an ornament refers to the use of one or more notes to decorate a particular note.
They add a layer of complexity to the music and if used correctly ornaments make melodies more interesting.
The most commonly used melodic ornaments are the turn, the mordent, the acciaccatura and the appoggiatura, as well as the trill, which we’ll be exploring in this lesson.
In the example given above, the first note in each bar is the “real” note with the rest of the notes in the bar decorating it.
In that example, the guitar trill is written as it should be played. However as a musical ornament it has a symbol of its own.
A tr symbol written over a note means that it should be embellished by a trill.
In the next example, you’re first given a bar with a guitar trill as it is notated in music, followed by a bar with the trill spelled out as it should be played.
The rest of the examples in this lesson will have both versions of guitar trill notation. (Except for the solo where you’re only given the trill as it should be played. In the solo I have added the letters tr over the “real note” in the trill).
Trills in guitar licks
Next, we’re going to explore the trill within the context of guitar licks.
The first example is a lick in the A minor natural scale and makes use of a trill on the first note of the second bar.
The next lick is in the A minor pentatonic scale and makes use of a shorter trill on the last note of the first bar.
Trills in guitar riffs
The main difference between a guitar lick and a guitar riff is that a riff is meant to be repeated.
While guitar licks are mostly used to embellish a song, sneaking in while (for instance) the singer is taking time to breathe, the riff serves as the engine of the song.
In the next two examples we’ll explore the trill within the context of a guitar riff.
The first riff makes use of the blues scale, the blue note being the second note of the trill.
The next riff is in the A Phrygian mode and makes use of a trill on each of the last four notes.
Note: Modes are scales derived from a parent scale. Every mode has a unique sound and the Phrygian mode is particularly loved by Heavy Metal guitar players because of the dark quality of its sound. Go to this lesson if you want to get started with the modes and to explore the sound color of each.
While a guitar solo can be seen as a collection of licks, one also has to be careful about things like phrasing and form when composing guitar solos.
A novel is made of sentences, but they’re not random sentences that have nothing to do with each other.
In the same way, guitar solos are a collection of licks that make logical sense and move seamlessly from one to another.
The last thing we’ll do today is to explore guitar trills within the context of a guitar solo.
This solo has an abundance of guitar trills within it, since it is meant to teach this particular technique. In real life, when soloing you may choose not to use so many trills but I suggest that you learn this solo in its entire to get this skill under your belt.
Note: The first 3 trills in this solo are double the speed of the rest of the trills. If you find these too hard to execute with your present playing abilities you can either play the whole solo at a slower tempo, or play the first 3 trills as sixteenth notes, like the rest of the trills in the solo.
The guitar trill is just one of many techniques you have available to make the same notes that you play sound better.
Other techniques, some of which were used in the examples above, include string bending, slides, vibrato, and pinch harmonics.
Getting a good grasp of these techniques will do a lot more to your guitar solos than increasing your speed, or learning more scales (without knowing how to use them properly).
Because while the ability to play fast and building your guitar scale vocabulary give you more options you can use in your solos, it is the correct use of these techniques that makes your solos shine out.
On the other hand, if your technique is sloppy (in the case of trills that would be having an inconsistent rhythm and dynamics) it’s better not to use that technique at all.
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