Identifying Problems in Your Tremolo with Thomas Viloteau

This is a guest post from tonebase.


In Thomas Viloteau’s lesson on tremolo, he describes his method for working on and identifying irregularities in your tremolo. Your tremolo must serve the music you are playing and go beyond a technique. Otherwise, what should sound like beautiful music will instead sound like an exercise.

“The music is the most important thing. If you practice your tremolo as a technical thing, when you go to an actual piece it’s either not going to work or it’s going to make your music completely flat and lifeless.” – Thomas Viloteau

What is a good tremolo?

A good tremolo allows for three things:

  1. A wide range of dynamics (pianissimo to fortissimo)
  2. Different articulations
  3. A range of different tempos (accelerando, ritardando, rubato…)

How to spot problems in your tremolo?

Get a smartphone or device that can film video at a high frame rate and play it back in slow motion. It’s the only way to SEE what your fingers are doing at such a high speed and HEAR if you are actually picking as regularly as the beat of the metronome. This will help you learn what you are doing wrong.

Once you know what to fix, practice on open strings with a metronome. Make sure the technique you are practicing at a slow speed is not just “good enough” to pass at a slow tempo – it needs to work at full speed. Try experimenting with expressive variations to test your control over the technique. As soon as your technique is ready, start practicing your tremolo within the piece and NOT in isolation, as just a tremolo exercise. It will only be great if it is MUSICAL and works within the piece!

What are the different types of tremolo?

These three approaches offer different qualities and fit different musical contexts. Experiment to find more. For all the exercises below, use a p-a-m-i plucking pattern, though in some situations a two-finger tremolo may be preferable.

  1. Basic – Resting (a) ring finger on the string before plucking it to create stability for the hand and tell your fingers where the string is. Free stroke all the way through the string.
  2. Legato – Never resting (a) ring finger on the string. Works well for piano sections and when the accompaniment is on the top. It also works well for portamento because it doesn’t silence the string.
  3. Detached – Planting each finger firmly on the string before it plays. Mostly for use on the second or third strings. The finger comes more from ABOVE the string, in this technique, and may jump a little rather than remaining totally steady.

Bonus Tips

  1. Tremolo is much easier on the first string than the second because there is more range of motion for your fingers. Take advantage of this when you make your fingering
  2. Your forearm must be super relaxed and your hand very stable.
  3. To minimize the sound of your nail hitting the string, you must make sure that your flesh is hitting the string before the nail.
  4. It is easy for the middle finger to fall out of time. If this is happening, accent the middle finger’s plucking.

Watch Thomas Viloteau’s lessons and more on tonebase Guitar.

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