Exercise: My Lip Trills Stink!


Some tips on lip trills.

In a lesson with a community college student on a Mozart concerto I needed to explain the lip trill. I demonstrated one – which at one time I could do very well – and much to my surprise, it sounded terrible.

Since the harmonics of the French horn are close to one another in the range above g1 on the F horn and c1 on the B-flat horn, horn players have an unique alternative to valved trills. It is possible to “wiggle” between two close harmonics. It is an effect that when well-executed produces a very elegant-sounding trill.

That being said, it is a technique that needs regular attention. If you don’t use it, you lose it – as I have discovered. To help organize the various techniques I have used to work on trills I created a PDF for myself and for my students.

Dividing trill practice into four areas of concentration, this PDF focuses on starting, controlling, sustaining and refining lip trills.

  1. The “kickstart”
    In a way, lip trills are like controlled yodels or “clams.” These exercises focus on jump-starting the process with harmonic “flips.” For some, using the syllables “O” and “E” help with this exercise. (O-E-O …. O-E-O, etc.) As you go higher the syllables “E” and “Ah” can help.
  2. The “wiggle spot”
    I once read an analogy that lip trills are like a cat walking on the edge of a thin, wet fence. The cat walks on the edge of the fence and wiggles between the two sides. This exercise helps to find that “fence” – the slippery spot between the two trill notes. With the lips only, blur the two notes together as much as possible.
  3. Working the locomotion
    The typical exercises that concentrate on speeding up and slowing down the trilling motion.
  4. “Extreme” techniques
    Flexibility exercises using expanded intervals, and trills in sustained crescendo/decrescendo, long-tone formats.

This PDF contains only the basic outline for these exercises. It is up to the user to “fill in the blanks” – it should be relatively self-explanatory.

University of Horn Matters