Tremolo, or tremolando, is a musical term
Musical terminology
This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be 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...

 that describes various trembling effects, falling roughly into two types. The first is a rapid reiteration
  • of a single note, particularly used on bowed string instruments and plucked strings such as harp
    The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

    , where it is called bisbigliando or "whispering".
  • between two notes or chords in alternation, an imitation (not to be confused with a trill
    Trill (music)
    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....

    ) of the preceding that is more common on keyboard instruments. Mallet instruments such as the marimba
    The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys ...

     are capable of either method.
  • a roll
    Drum roll
    A drum roll is a technique the percussionist employs to produce a sustained sound on a percussion instrument. Rolls are used by composers to sustain the sound and create other effects, the most common of which is using a roll to build anticipation.- Snare drum roll :The most common snare drum roll...

     on any percussion instrument
    Percussion instrument
    A percussion instrument is any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement or when it is shaken, rubbed, scraped, or otherwise acted upon in a way that sets the object into vibration...

    , whether tuned or untuned.

A second type of tremolo is a variation in amplitude,
  • as produced on organs by tremulant
    A tremulant is a device on a pipe organ which varies the wind supply to the pipes of one or more divisions . This causes their pitch to fluctuate, producing a vibrato effect. A large organ may have several tremulants, affecting different ranks of pipes...

  • using electronic effects in guitar amplifiers and effects pedals which rapidly turn the volume of a signal up and down, creating a "shuddering" effect;
  • an imitation of the same by strings in which pulsations are taken in the same bow direction;
  • a vocal technique involving a wide or slow vibrato
    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 .-Vibrato and...

    , not to be confused with the trillo or "Monteverdi trill".

Some electric guitar
Electric guitar
An electric guitar is a guitar that uses the principle of direct electromagnetic induction to convert vibrations of its metal strings into electric audio signals. The signal generated by an electric guitar is too weak to drive a loudspeaker, so it is amplified before sending it to a loudspeaker...

s use a (somewhat misnamed) device called a "tremolo arm" or "whammy bar" that allows a performer to lower or raise the pitch of a note or chord or apply a vibrato. This non-standard use of the term "tremolo" refers to pitch rather than amplitude.


Tremolo was invented by the late 16th century composer Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer.Monteverdi's work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition – the...

 and, written as repeated semiquavers (sixteenth note
Sixteenth note
thumb|right|Figure 1. A sixteenth note with stem facing up, a sixteenth note with stem facing down, and a sixteenth rest.thumb|right|Figure 2. Four sixteenth notes beamed together....

s), used for the stile concitato
Stile concitato
Stile concitato or "agitated style" is a Baroque style developed by Claudio Monteverdi with effects such as having rapid repeated notes and extended trills as symbols of bellicose agitation or anger....

effects in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is an operatic scena for three voices by Claudio Monteverdi, although many dispute how the piece should be classified. The piece has a libretto drawn from Torquato Tasso's La Gerusalemme Liberata , a Romance set against the backdrop of the First Crusade...

. The measured tremolo, presumably played with rhythmic regularity, was invented to add dramatic intensity to string accompaniment and contrast with regular tenuto
Tenuto is a direction used in musical notation. Arguably, it is one of the first directions to be used in music notation, as Notker of St...

 strokes. However, it was not till the time of Gluck that the real tremolo became an accepted method of tone production. 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.

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.

Instrumental techniques

The term tremolando especially refers to a rapid repetition on a bowed string instrument
String instrument
A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

, one of the most commonly seen uses of the technique. Tremolo on a violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

 or similar instrument is sometimes combined with playing sul ponticello (bowing near the bridge of the instrument), which gives a thin and reedy effect, often perceived to be "ghostly."

Another common use of the technique on one note, a reiteration, used in the playing of instruments such as the mandolin
A mandolin is a musical instrument in the lute family . It descends from the mandore, a soprano member of the lute family. The mandolin soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. A mandolin may have f-holes, or a single...

. It is common in Russian folk music, used in instruments such as the balalaika
The balalaika is a stringed musical instrument popular in Russia, with a characteristic triangular body and three strings.The balalaika family of instruments includes instruments of various sizes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest, the prima balalaika, secunda balalaika, alto balalaika, bass...

, domra
The domra is a long-necked Russian string instrument of the lute family with a round body and three or four metal strings.-History:In 1896, a student of Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev found a broken instrument in a stable in rural Russia...

 and gusli. Once a string is plucked, the note decays very rapidly, and by playing the same note many times very rapidly, the illusion of a sustained note can be created. The technique is also common in the playing of the marimba
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys ...


Tremolo is also well known classical guitar
Classical guitar
The classical guitar is a 6-stringed plucked string instrument from the family of instruments called chordophones...

 technique that involves using the thumb to play single bass notes concurrent with, or directly followed by rapid repetition of a higher note played by two (the middle and index) or three (the ring, middle and index) fingers. Francisco Tárrega
Francisco Tárrega
Francisco de Asís Tárrega y Eixea was an influential Spanish composer and guitarist of the Romantic period.-Biography:Tárrega was born on 21 November 1852, in Vila-real, Castelló, Spain...

 notably used this technique in his famous composition Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Recuerdos de la Alhambra is a classical guitar piece composed in 1896 by Spanish composer and guitarist Francisco Tárrega. He wrote it in Granada.A virtuoso on his instrument, Tárrega was known as the "Sarasate of the guitar"...


Tremolo on two or more notes is common on the piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 and other keyboard instrument
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

s. The composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 often used the technique in his piano pieces. On the piano, tremolo can create a seemingly louder and larger sound that can be sustained indefinitely. Historically, its use on keyboard instruments can be traced back to a time before the invention of the piano
Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco was an Italian maker of musical instruments, generally regarded as the inventor of the piano.-Life:...

 when harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...

s and similar instruments such as the spinet
A spinet is a smaller type of harpsichord or other keyboard instrument, such as a piano or organ.-Spinets as harpsichords:While the term spinet is used to designate a harpsichord, typically what is meant is the bentside spinet, described in this section...

 were standard. These instruments could not sustain notes for nearly as long as a modern piano, and so tremolo was used to simulate a longer sustain, as well as being used as an independent effect.

Tremolo can also be achieved through the use of amplitude modulation
Amplitude modulation
Amplitude modulation is a technique used in electronic communication, most commonly for transmitting information via a radio carrier wave. AM works by varying the strength of the transmitted signal in relation to the information being sent...

. This type of effect is often used by electronic instruments and takes the form of a multiplication of the sound by a waveform of lower frequency known as an LFO. The result is similar to the effect of rapid bowing on a violin or the rapid keying of a piano. In accordion
The accordion is a box-shaped musical instrument of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist....

s and related instruments
The term Squeezebox is a colloquial expression referring to any musical instrument of the general class of hand-held bellows-driven free reed aerophones such as the accordion and the concertina...

, tremolo by amplitude modulation is accomplished through intermodulation
Intermodulation or intermodulation distortion is the amplitude modulation of signals containing two or more different frequencies in a system with nonlinearities...

 between two or more reeds
Reed (instrument)
A reed is a thin strip of material which vibrates to produce a sound on a musical instrument. The reeds of most Woodwind instruments are made from Arundo donax or synthetic material; tuned reeds are made of metal or synthetics.-Single reeds:Single reeds are used on the mouthpieces of clarinets...

 slightly out of tune with each other. On organ
Pipe organ
The pipe organ is a musical instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air through pipes selected via a keyboard. Because each organ pipe produces a single pitch, the pipes are provided in sets called ranks, each of which has a common timbre and volume throughout the keyboard compass...

 these ondulating ranks are called celeste
Voix céleste
The Voix celeste, [Fr.] is an organ stop consisting of either one or two ranks of pipes slightly out of tune. The term celeste refers to a rank of pipes detuned slightly so as to produce a beating effect when combined with a normally tuned rank...

 or onda maris.


In musical notation
Musical notation
Music notation or musical notation is any system that represents aurally perceived music, through the use of written symbols.-History:...

, tremolo is indicated by strokes through the stems of the notes; in the case of semibreves (whole note
Whole note
thumb|right|250px|Figure 1. A whole note and a whole rest.In music, a whole note or semibreve is a note represented by a hollow oval note head, like a half note , and no note stem . Its length is equal to four beats in 4/4 time...

s), which lack stems, the bars are drawn above or below the note, where the stem would be if there were one. Generally, there are three strokes, except on quavers (eighth note
Eighth note
thumb|180px|right|Figure 1. An eighth note with stem facing up, an eighth note with stem facing down, and an eighth rest.thumb|right|180px|Figure 2. Four eighth notes beamed together....

s), which take two, and semiquavers (sixteenth note
Sixteenth note
thumb|right|Figure 1. A sixteenth note with stem facing up, a sixteenth note with stem facing down, and a sixteenth rest.thumb|right|Figure 2. Four sixteenth notes beamed together....

s), which take one:

Because this is the same notation as would be used to indicate that regular repeated demisemiquavers (thirty-second note
Thirty-second note
In music, a thirty-second note or demisemiquaver is a note played for 1/32 of the duration of a whole note...

s) should be played, the word tremolo or the abbreviation trem., is sometimes added (particularly in slower music, when there is a real chance of confusion). Alternatively, more strokes can be used.
If the tremolo is between two or more notes, the bars are drawn between them:
In some music a minim- (Half note
Half note
In music, a half note or minim is a note played for half the duration of a whole note and twice the duration of a quarter note...

) based tremolo is drawn with the strokes connecting the two notes together.

Bowed string instruments

Violin double stop chords:
Violin bowed tremolo:
Violin fingered tremolo; notice the joining of strokes and stems is different for different time values, and that all notes shorter than eighth notes are written out, such as the last thirty-second notes on the last beat of measure
Bar (music)
In musical notation, a bar is a segment of time defined by a given number of beats of a given duration. Typically, a piece consists of several bars of the same length, and in modern musical notation the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the top number of a...

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