"Tremolo: A regular periodic change in amplitude, usually controlled by an LFO, with a periodicity of less than 20Hz. Compare with vibrato."

A lot of old guitar amplifiers, Fenders and others, had a built-in tremolo device; see "How Soon Is Now" by The Smiths for a real obvious example, and the deathless classic "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells for a really fabulous example: They put tremolo on the voices, guitars, everything. "Cri-i-i-i-mso-o-on a-and cl-o-o-o-ve-er, o-o-o-ove-er a-a-and o-o-ve-er..." (and it's noded, too! Wharfinger jumps up and down at his desk, playing air guitar and singing, wildly off pitch -- "da-DA da-DA da-DAAAA", D major, A major, G major, over and over, over and over...).

Altering the tension on the strings of a guitar (hence pitch) by means of a vibrato tailpiece mechanism will, as a side effect, slightly alter the amplitude -- but that doesn't mean that vibrato and tremolo are the same thing. Ignorant semi-musicians love to use the word "tremolo" to refer to vibrato. Why? Because stupid people like to misuse words. Ignore them.

A (difficult) classical guitar technique whereby a bass note is plucked by the thumb, followed by a treble note plucked three times by the ring, middle then index fingers. This results in a repetitive p a m i pattern of the right hand, very popular in flamenco guitar music. Big deal, do I hear? You mustn't have heard how incredibly fast this pattern is played.

Tremolo is a technique used on a bowed string instrument. The bow is moved back and forth very quickly, producing a "shaking" effect. Tremolo can be used to achieve a number of different sounds. If combined with an accent, a sense of urgency and energy is conveyed. When used more statically, over longer periods of time, the effect is more like a carpet of sound.

The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-96) used tremolo extensively throughout his nine symphonies, making them physically hard to play. It is often better to play a slightly slower tremolo in his works, adding to the feeling of a carpet of sound, and the term "Bruckner tremolo" is sometimes used for a slower, more sluggish tremolo. Contemporary composers also use this effect a lot, and when combined with other techniques, such as sul ponticello, sul tasto, glissando etc., the result can be quite astonishing.

Tremolo picking is a technique used by guitarists to play notes on one string very quickly.

This is done by moving the pick back and forth over a string repeatedly.

Here are some tips to do this most effectively:

1. Use your arm for the movement, not your wrist.
2. Turn your pick at a slight angle with your thumb so it will glide easier over the string.
3. Use only 1mm or less on the tip of the pick for the best speed and least amount of scraping noise, this is most helpful when you are using a lot of distortion in your sound as noises can quickly diminish your tone.

When notated (notation) in tablature it looks like 3 diagonal slashes through the stem of the note.

Wind instruments, particularly woodwinds, can also perform a tremolo.

The most common use of tremolo in wind parts is as a variation on the trill. A trill involves alternating between two adjacent scale tones (thus, the two notes are never more than an augmented second apart). If the composer, arranger, or notator wishes a similar effect that covers a larger interval, he or she will usually notate a tremolo.

Technically, though, a tremolo is not simply a trill with expanded range. While a trill is normally intended to be played as quickly as possible (not always; trills are occassionally slow, or of variable speed, for stylistic reasons), a tremolo is supposed to be played evenly and at a measured tempo.

This type of tremolo is notated as two notes of equal duration but different pitches, with a set of one or more parallel bars angling (up or down) from the first to the second. The entire construction occupies a duration equal to only one of the notes -- so a half note tremolo looks like two half notes but lasts only as long as a single half note.

The number of bars used in the tremolo notation indicates how quickly the tremolo should be played. If there is a single bar in the notation, the tremolo should be played as eighth notes -- the single bar corresponds directly to the single flag on an eighth note. Likewise, two bars indicates sixteenth notes (two flags), and three bars means thirty-second notes (three flags).

Tremolos with three bars are by far the most common. At most common tempos, such a tremolo is so quick that it does sound like a trill with expanded range. Occassionally a notator will use a tremolo to indicate an alternating series of eighth notes or sixteenth notes, but such use is rare.

The other type of tremolo used by wind instruments is rarely seen. Up-angled tremolo bars are placed above or below the note-head (opposite the stem) of a single note. This notation is performed as if it were a series of shorter notes with total duration equal to the tremoloed note. A half note with two tremolo bars, then, would be played exactly the same as eight sixteenth notes at the same pitch.

For comparison, a string tremolo is notated with the tremolo bars directly on the note stem.

Tre"mo*lo (?), n. [It. Cf. Tremulous.] Mus. (a)

The rapid reiteration of tones without any apparent cessation, so as to produce a tremulous effect.


A certain contrivance in an organ, which causes the notes to sound with rapid pulses or beats, producing a tremulous effect; -- called also tremolant, and tremulant.


© Webster 1913.

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