Ins & Outs of Trills

Accurate use of trill keys is essential for speed, intonation and technical confidence. Choosing which key(s) to use can be confusing, particularly when sight reading or learning a new chart, so here are a few simple guidelines.


A trill is defined as the rapid alternation between adjacent notes, beginning on the written note and alternating with the next note in the key; for example in the key of F Major, a trill on A alternates with Bb. Trills are indicated by placing a trill sign (tr) or a long wavy line ( ) over the note to be trilled.

Before playing trills, practice the phrase without the trill. Be sure to check the key signature, identify the scale name, then practice the scale to confirm the correct pitch for the trills.

Trill Keys

Located between the long rods and the main keys on the flute body, the trill keys are the small, oblong keys on the right side key work. It’s important to become comfortable with the keys, so visually locate both and practice pressing them while holding the flute with your left hand. For Trill Key 1, use the middle finger; for Trill Key 2, use the ring finger in order to maintain good hand position and build technical skill.

Usage Rules

Follow these simple rules for correct trills:
1. Key 1 for the lower octave C-D trill
2. Key 2 for the higher octave C-D trill
3. Key 2 for the lower octave C#-D# (Db-Eb) trill
4. Both Keys 1 and 2 for the higher octave C#-D# (Db-Eb) trill
5. Key 1 in the higher octave B-C# trill

Note: B-C# trill in the lower octave is fingered regularly

Trills add sparkle to technique, so practice daily to develop skill and speed as well as build confidence.

About the Author

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at the University of North Texas in Denton, appears as a soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America. A renowned author, Mary has published more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. Visit


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