Robert Estrin - piano expert

What's the Difference Between a Mordent and a Trill?

A subtle but yet important difference between two well-known ornaments

In this video, Robert teaches you the difference between a "mordent" and a "trill." There is a little but significant difference between the two ornaments that you want to know before approaching baroque music such as Bach's, Handel's, and more.

Released on September 18, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at today, the question is, what is the difference between a mordant and a trill? Interestingly, they look so similar on the page and usually find these in baroque era music of Handel, Bach, Scarlatti, and composers of that period of time, and I want to show you there's one specific difference that's very important. The beginning of the fifth French suite, the sarabande movement starts with a mordent, and if I played it without the mordent because it has a mordent, then it has a trill on the same note shortly after. I'm going to play it. Actually it's not the same note, but it's right after. So you get a chance to hear a mordent and a trill. I'm going to play the beginning without the ornamentation, just the very, very beginning of this and then I'm going to show you what a mordent is and how it differs from a trill in two interesting ways.


So that's playing the beginning, without any ornamentation, but Bach wrote a mordent on the first note on that B, and the secret to a mordent is you add the note below and then go back to the note that's written. So when you have a B, you're going to play B, A, B, like this.

So what's different about a trill? Well, in the next section, just right after that, you have a trill. [Inaudible]


No, this was another mordent you'd go


But trills start on the upper note.


Typically trills can have more than just one or two notes. This is a freedom of expression. In fact, the whole Baroque era is noted by its ornamentation. By the way, this isn't just true of music. Look at the architecture and the art of that period. It's noted for the filigree. All the beautiful, fine detail ornamentation is an opportunity for the performer to add their own expressive element. That's why if you listened to different performances of the same exact pieces of Bach or Handel, Telemann, other baroque composers, the ornamentation could be quite different. So here's how it sounds. Now remember the first time I played it without any ornamentation, it sounded like this


So now I'm going to play it with the first note with the the ornament, the mordent, and then the next note with a trill. And it sounds like this.


So you got to watch for those squiggly lines. The mordent has one less. The trill has more lines going up and down on the score. It's kind of a deciphering a code. Interestingly, different performers have different ideas about what these squiggly lines and turns. And all of this mean, because we don't really know what people played hundreds of years ago were doing. There's many, many books written on the subject. And ultimately it's up to you as a performer to play something that you feel passionately about that really feels right to you. Sometimes with pieces like this where that is French suites that have repeats and all the sections, you can actually do different ornamentation the first time around, converted the second time around to make it even more interesting. So that's the simple truth about mordents vs trills. Trills are a little bit more elaborate. Can add more notes. Trills go up. Mordents go down. Trills often start on the auxiliary (that is the note above the note that's written). Interesting stuff, Huh? There's a whole world to this. I hope you've enjoyed this. Once again, Robert Estrin here at your online piano store, LivingPianos.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Paul Spence * VSM MEMBER * on September 18, 2019 @1:19 pm PST
This was very informative. Thanks for the clarification.
Tseng, Li-Chun * VSM MEMBER * on September 18, 2019 @3:50 am PST
Very useful knowledge. Thank you, Robert.
Robert - host, on September 19, 2019 @1:52 pm PST
Happy to help! You are welcome to join us live on YouTube in about 4 hours:
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