I used to believe native Spanish speakers had a superpower. I thought they could manipulate their tongue in a way kept secret to foreigners. Like a national treasure!
Boy, was I wrong!
When someone makes a trilled r, there’s no magic trick happening. She doesn’t have a super muscle in the tip of her tongue capable of vibrating on command.
Trilling your r’s is a simple physical phenomenon.
Keep your tongue still at the border shared by your upper teeth and your palate. Now force air to go out through your mouth in order to make the tip of your tongue vibrate.
It’s not some secret muscle that you’re supposed to activate with your mind. It’s simply air going through your mouth, and your tongue acting as a valve clapper.
Your tongue is not supposed to touch neither your teeth nor your palate. But if you really can’t do it, then you can start with the tip of your tongue touching your upper teeth or your palate. And then, little by little, get your tongue a little bit further away from them.
Now, the bad news is that there are two kinds of r in Spanish (and Italian, and other languages I guess). You have the trill, and you have the flap. The trill usually appears (at least in Spanish) when there are two r’s (as in perro), or at the beginning of a word. And the flap is a weaker r, as in pero and caro. Just remember that these rules aren’t set in stone, due to the large number of different dialects and accents in Spanish.
You can see the flap like whipping your tongue behind your teeth. You can start practicing by making a quick d. Say ada, with a very quick d. Say it several times in a row. Make the letter d go quicker every time. After a while, you will get a flap.
You’re likely to not succeed the first time (with the trill and the flap). So: KEEP GOING! Practice 5-10 minutes a day several days in a row, and, eventually, it will come. Exaggerate at the beginning. You’re not trying to have a perfect clear trill the first time. Exaggerate, experiment, tell me I’m wrong and go watch a YouTube tutorial instead. I don’t care, as long as you don’t give up.
I don’t know why but somehow “the trill and the flap” makes me think of a great idea for a bad movie title. Just saying…