Chad Runyon is an award-winning vocal performer, conductor, and instructor.

Posted September 17th, 2013
Filed under Essays

Producing the Alveolar Trill or Rolled “r”

The rolled “r” is common in Spanish (“Rápido corren los carros”), Italian (“Prostrarre”) and Russian (“Russki teatre”).  It is present in Scottish English (“Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascals ran the rural races”).  Generally, we don’t find the rolled “r” in American English, but it sure comes in handy for classical singers — imagine “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Handel’s Messiah without a rolled “r”, or the elocution lesson in “Singin’ in the Rain”—“Moses supposes erroneously” without a rolled “r”.  It’s just not as good!

The “back of the throat” rolled “r” (spoken French) is not the same as the Alveolar Trill or “front of the mouth” rolled “r” (spoken Spanish).


  • Tongue placement is key.  The alveolar ridge is located behind the top front teeth.  It’s the area between the soft palate (roof of the mouth) and the front teeth.  If your rolled “r” doesn’t work, experiment with where you place the tip of your tongue before releasing air.
  • Tongue relaxation is key.  The back, or root of the tongue should be relaxed.  Some of the exercises below are designed to relax the tongue where needed and energize the tongue where needed.  If your rolled “r” doesn’t work, it could be that your tongue is too tense.
  • Air flows between the tongue and the alveolar ridge.  This should feel like sighing than blowing.  If the air stops, the tongue will not flutter.

Exercises for developing a Rolled “r”.  (You don’t have to do them all, just until you meet success):

1) Repeat the phrase: “Put it up.”  Say it slowly, and then increase speed.  Observe the placement of the tongue, which is essentially where it needs to be for a rolled “r”.  As you repeat the phrase, remain relaxed and send more air through the tongue as you increase speed–like a breathy sigh.

2) With a Scottish accent, say: “that’s great.” Having the hard “g” before the flipped “r”, helps release the back of the tongue.  Be sure the tongue relaxes after making the hard “g” sound.  Increase the intensity of the Scottish accent and you may find yourself rolling the “r”.

3) Say the phrase: “Vision Dream.”  Do so very, very slowly, elongating every vowel and consonant.  Crescendo into the “n” of “visionnnnnnnn”, prepare the tongue for the “d” of “dream” with a “stopped d”.  The pent up air flowing from the “n” crescendo into the stopped “d” leads to a burst of air into the “r” of “drrrrrrrrrrrream”.

4) Say the word “Dracula”.  You can do this with an eastern European accent to help get the flipped “r” going, then the rolled “r” rolling.  Notice how the tongue moves loosely but quickly from the tips of your teeth to the roof of your mouth.  Try other words using this tongue combination: Drake, Trade, Brake, Pray.  Flip the “r” by making it a “d” sound.  Elongate the time the tongue stays on the alveolar ridge with a stopped “d”, then allow the air to burst through the “d” into a rolled “r”.

5) Push Trill Method.  This uses the mechanics of a French rolled “r” to remind the tongue how to vibrate in another area besides the alveolar ridge.  Many find the French “r” much easier to produce than the rolled “r”.  To begin, start a vibration in the back of your throat. Think of a mild hock-a-loogie action.  This places the back of your tongue at the back of your soft palate.  Once you can get this trill full and constant, add voice and try relocating the vibration forward by touching the tip of your tongue to the alveolar ridge.

6) Raspberry Method.  This assumes you already know how to blow a raspberry or to do a Bronx cheer.  Place your tongue against the underside of your top lip and blow air between the tongue and top lip.  This sound is technically known as an “unvoiced linguolabial trill”.  There is a great similarity between a raspberry and a rolled “r”.  Both sounds feature the tongue vibrating against the underside of either the lip or the alveolar ridge.  Blow a raspberry; add voicing by humming.  Continue the voiced-raspberry and lower your jaw as quickly as possible until the tongue shifts from you upper lip to the roof of your mouth.  If quickly doesn’t work, try moving the jaw down slowly.

7) Bilabial Trill Method.  If you are able to produce a lip trill, get it going.  While continuing the lip trill, try placing the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge while allowing your cheeks to puff out like a chipmunk.  If the tongue begins to flutter, you’re halfway there because you’re now producing both the lip trill and the rolled “r”.  Observe the sensation in your tongue.  Slowly, after several successful attempts of producing both sounds simultaneously, try releasing the cheeks and lips and drop the jaw slowly while maintaining the rolled “r”.

Genetics and environment are two factors that determine one’s ability to roll the “r”.  Conditions that may prevent you from producing a rolled “r”:

  • Some have found that if you can’t fold your tongue, or roll your tongue, you will likely not be able to roll your “r”.  If you can perform either of these tongue tricks, chances are you can learn to roll your “r”.
  • Tongue Tied Condition (ankyloglossia inferior, or tight frenulum) where the piece of skin inside the mouth located below the tongue (where the tongue joins the lower palate) is too short and the tongue cannot reach to top palate for any dental fricatives.
  • Cleft Palate.  When the two sides of the soft palate have not fused properly during fetal development.