Tremolo Fingering Charts for the 6-hole dizi

In this article, we extend the concept of treating the dizi as a 12-tone [equal temperament] instrument and consider tremolo fingering patterns.

You may skip over to the chart if you are already familiar with dizi tremolo/trills, or to the usage instructions if you are familiar with the chart's layout.

Tremolo or Trill?

Technically speaking, we are really considering trills or shakes as opposed to tremolos, mostly due to focus on the really short musical intervals of up to thirds. Note that unlike the complicated trills in Baroque music (e.g. trill, mordent among others), dizi trills are simple alternations only. Thus, we will just refer to the technique as tremolo.

The tremolo (颤音 or chanyin) is notated in jianpu by having a tr on top of a jianpu note. Without any other modifications, this is often interpreted as at least two alternations with the next pitch in the associated scale, starting from the given pitch. For instance, we have the following interpretations:

tr   ╭────╮      tr   ╭────╮     tr   ╭────╮
1  = 1212 1      3  = 3434 3     7  = 71̇71̇ 7
     ====--           ====--          ====--

If a tremolo interval is less than a major second and is not part of the underlying diatonic scale, a appears on top of the tr, giving rise to the following interpretations:

♭                      ♭               
tr   ╭─────────╮       tr   ╭─────────╮
1  = 1 ♭2 1 ♭2 1       6  = 6 ♭7 6 ♭7 6
     =========--            =========--

Tremolos of other intervals will have the specific pitch to alternate with written on top of the tr, giving rise to the following interpretations:

3                ♯4              
tr   ╭────╮      tr   ╭─────────╮
1  = 1313 1      2  = 2 ♯4 2 ♯4 2
     ====--           =========--

For tremolos beyond the major third interval, it is often achievable using the standard fingering patterns and practising on their alternations deliberately and carefully.

Longer duration tremolos are indicated with tr〰. This usually means that the tremolo now has no determinate number of times and should be sustain to the end of the note, ending as much as possible as the same starting note. Two examples can be seen here:

tr〰   ╭──────────╮      tr〰   ╭──────────╮
1 -  = 12121...12 1      1 -  = 13131...13 1
       ==========--             ==========--

Those dots in the examples are ellipses, not dotted notes. When the duration of the tremolo is long, there may be different ways to start and end it, and is dependent on the interpretation of function of the tremolo in the piece.

The Chart (And How to Read It)

With no fan-fare, I present the chart below, as well as a downloadable version. Skip over to the explanation of the chart below.

tremolo fingering chart for the 6-hole dizi
Entire tremolo fingering chart using both Boehm flute pattern notation and tongyin as .

Explaining the Chart

Like the 12-tone fingering chart, we have four large sections, namely the intervals of the tremolos in semi-tones (top), starting pitch based on the canonical tongyin as fingering pattern (left), the patterns proper for each starting pitch and interval combination (right), and some additional annotation notes (bottom).

Intervals of Tremolos

interval labels
(Top) The interval labels for minor second, major second, minor third and major third, counted in semi-tones.

The interval size of the tremolos are provided here. The section label is for the interval (音程 or yincheng), counted in semi-tones (半音计算法 or banyin jisuan fa). The next line consists of four columns, with the intervals in number of semi-tones (半音 or banyin) labelled.

Note that the intervals always refer to the upward (i.e.\ to a higher) direction.

Starting Pitch Pattern

starting pitch patterns in tongyin as 5
(Left) Starting pitch patterns in both concert flute equivalent system and tongyin as .

The starting pitch pattern is headed with the pitch name (音名 or yinming), followed by two different representations of the pitch in question. We default to using the tongyin as and the concert flute equivalent system to make refer to the fingering patterns in a simpler way. This is needed due to how we use fingering patterns instead of actual keys/pitches in dizi; tongyin as is the fundamental fingering pattern that one needs to learn for all dizi and is thus easiest to relate to.

Tremolo Patterns

tremolo patterns
(Right) Tremolo patterns (before (前 or qian) and after (后 or hou)) for each interval from one semi-tone to four semi-tones.

This is the meat of the tremolo fingering pattern table. For each interval column, we have two main sub-columns, the before pattern (前 or qian) and the after pattern (后 or hou). Since it is a tremolo pattern, start first with the before pattern, then rapidly alternate to the after pattern, then the before pattern, and the after pattern before reverting back to the before pattern and holding the duration of the note.

As before, the symbols , , , and have their usual meaning. The holes are labelled above the first fingering pattern entries as a mnemonic.

Most tremolos are straightforward to execute and are often given as is. Some of them may require some special tricks---these are given subscript numbers that point to additional annotation notes.

Additional Annotation Notes

footnotes for tremolo patterns
(Bottom) Footnotes to explain specific things to look out for when executing some of the tremolo patterns.

There are five additional annotation notes in the tremolo pattern chart. We provide the translations below:

  1. Awkward, best to avoid [by using a different dizi if possible].
  2. Blow softer to lower (i.e.\ flatten) the pitch.
  3. Pitch tends to go flat, try to blow harder.
  4. Over-blowing technique required; uncommon tremolo type. Higher success rate if using a qudi.
  5. Start with the basic fingering, then alternate to ``after'', then alternate between ``before'' and ``after''.

Using the Chart

Here's how to use the chart:

  1. Count the number of semi-tones the tremolo is needed. Note that if it is just the pitch with the tr sign, assume it is the next higher note in the diatonic scale.
  2. If it is more than 4 semi-tones, then just alternate between the current note and the next one using standard fingering patterns; no need to consult the chart.
  3. Take note of the current fingering pattern of the note with the tremolo sign on it.
  4. Determine which pitch name (音名 or yinming) it is in tongyin as using the 12-tone fingering chart for the 6-hole dizi.
  5. Locate the row according to the equivalent pitch name in tongyin as , and intersect it with the column coinciding with the number of semi-tones.
  6. Follow the before (前 or qian) and after (后 or hou) patterns for the tremolo.

Here is a worked example to illustrate the process. Suppose we have a piece of music in G-major played using tongyin as on a dizi in the key of E. We see the following tremolo:

3 - 


  1. 3 to 5 has 34, 4♯4, ♯45, which is 3 semi-tones.
  2. This is less than 4 semi-tones, so the chart is applicable.
  3. The fingering pattern for 3 in tongyin as is ○●● ●●●.
  4. Consulting 12-tone fingering chart for the 6-hole dizi, we find that the pitch name for 3 in tongyin as is 5 in tongyin as .
  5. We consult the tremolo chart, we find the cell to be:
    ║       3 半音      ║
    ║ ╭L╮ ╭R╮ │ ╭L╮ ╭R╮ ║
    ╫━654 321━┿━654 321━╫
    ║ ●●● ●●● │ ●●● ●○● ║
  6. So we now know that we need to start with ●●● ●●● then alternate it with ●●● ●○● to effect the tremolo.

Most of the time, the fingering patterns needed to execute a particular tremolo are very intuitive---this chart attempts to fill out the parts that are less intuitive, like for really high notes, or those that involve half-hole covering patterns.

Even with this chart, it is still important and necessary to practise the alternating fingering patterns for the tremolo until it is smooth enough.