Sims Reeves on the Trill

Nature imparts but to a few the power of executing a natural shake. It therefore behoves the student to practise most diligently; as the possessor of a perfect shake, though perhaps wanting in many other essentials, always enjoys a certain advantage. Great flexibility and lightness of voice are not absolutely necessary for acquiring the shake — it is an ornament equally within the means of the heaviest bass as the most delicate soprano. Meyerbeer gives the bass voice a splendid opportunity for trilling on the low G in Marcel’s song, ” The monks and their convents” in “The Huguenots,” and there are many such examples in all composers. The trill, it may here be observed, is a passing shake which must be sung in strict time in the phrase where it occurs : while the shake proper is sung ad lib., but never so long as to exhaust the breath ; the singer always leaving the impression upon his audience of having been able, if he liked, to continue the shake still longer.


In tender and pleading passages, the shake must be sung gently and only moderately fast. In passionate and agitated passages, on the other hand, the shake must be sung rapidly and brilliantly. As a cadence, the shake is mostly used in English ballads.


The shake consists of two notes, a tone or a semitone from each other. They must be equal, distinctly marked, moderately quick, and sung with ease. The notes must be kept in perfect tune — one of the most common mistakes is to make the interval inexact ; too great attention cannot be paid to this point. A slow tempo in the singing of the shake exactly in tune is much more pleasurable to hear than a rapid and indistinct execution. Loudness must always be avoided, a gentle but decided emission of the notes allows the singer to adapt the voice to the sentiment proper to the piece which is being sung. The surest way of performing the shake is from the upper note, which may be a tone or a semitone. Above all things, the vicious tremolo — which is so fashionable among drawing-room singers — should be avoided as ruination to the voice. The tremolo has no relation to the shake, and is only a wobble, very often acquired by making the voice shiver in the jaws. The usual way of ending a shake, unless otherwise marked, is thus: —

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 8.47.18 AM

Reeves, Sims. On the Art of Singing. Boosey, 1900.

Leave a Reply