A trill is a melodic embellishment produced by rapidly alternating two notes a step or semitone apart. The effect closely resembles the way that speakers of certain languages roll their R’s (always with great gusto), which is also called a trill (or to linguists, “trilled rhotics”).

The bottom note of a trill is always the “main” note, making the top note the “embellishing” note.

In melodic figuration, the name “Trill” refers to a slow-motion version of the ornamental action of alternating two notes.

Some birdsong contains trills. The following description comes from the opening page of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. Notice how the variety of melodic “figures” she mentions parallels the way trills incorporate themselves into human melodies.

Before she had time to squeeze out a single tear a sound broke the stillness, making her prick up her ears. It was only the soft twitter of a bird, but it seemed to be a peculiarly gifted bird, for while she listened the soft twitter changed to a lively whistle, then a trill, a coo, a chirp, and ended in a musical mixture of all the notes, as if the bird burst out laughing. 

synonyms: warble, oscillate, alternate, shake,

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
trill (verb)
intransitive verb
to flow in a small stream or in drops - trickle
transitive verb
- twirl revolve to cause to flow in a small stream
trill (noun)
a) the alternation of two musical tones a diatonic second apart - called also shake
b) - vibrato
c) a rapid reiteration of the same tone especially on a percussion instrument
a sound resembling a musical trill - warble
a) the rapid vibration of one speech organ against another (as of the tip of the tongue against the teethridge)
b) a speech sound made by a trill
trill (verb)
intransitive verb
transitive verb
to play or sing with a trill - quaver to utter as or with or as if with a trill - trill the r
Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus
trill (verb)
to sing with the alternation of two musical tones
quaver, trill
slur; yodel; belt, carol, chant, chorus, croon, descant, harmonize, troll, vocalize; lilt, scat
« Back to Glossary Index

Want to go further? You CAN!
Each chapter in this 300-page eBook breaks down everything that expert music makers do intuitively. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of step-by-step instructions to help you create the same effects in your own music.

all four books