When and How Does It All End? How a Wind Instrument Musician Successfully Ends a Note

When students go on the journey to become a wind instrument musician, most tutors make a sincere effort to introduce the many concepts required in their training to ensure success in their venture.

Focus is made, to different degrees, on fingerings, embouchure, breathing techniques, counting, and tonguing.

While every private teacher attempts to present proper tonguing, subject to their own habits (good or bad), nothing about ending a note is ever addressed.

Obviously, every note has a time value whether it be one, two, three beats etc. (Not ect which people always say eckcetera…I guess. #Pet peeve of mine) The question is: When does it end and how do you end it?

Let’s first observe a note played on a piano. If you have a piano handy, play a note and hold the key down and listen to the natural decay of the string vibrations. Within a few seconds you will not hear a discernible sound. Could you tell when the note ended? This is a big clue to where I’m going.

When you attack a note you can hold it as long as your lungs permit. Just suppose you use your lungs to taper the air flow as you are playing an extremely long note, like six measures of tied whole notes in a slow passage. Tapering will conserve your air, allowing you to play longer on the same breath. Someone will invariably comment that the note you played was too short. However, if the note faded away, and no one can tell you when you ended the note, like the sustained note on a piano, then how can they know and say definitively when it actually ended. This is a technique that only professional performers might know and use.

None the less, it really is cool to use in spite of how difficult it is to execute. You know: the fluctuation of pitch over a slow enduring twenty four beat span, and the controlled rate of decay over that same time frame.

Unlike the piano that starts to get softer almost immediately after the attack and fades fairly quickly, horn and bowed string players have the option of sustaining the dynamic level as long as artistic interpretation dictates before the decay begins.

I don’t expect teachers that are performer wannabes to know or have ever used this other than by accident. Of course there are those who have done this but never really thought about it. Those are the great players that can do, but have trouble explaining how to do it. Or maybe don’t have time to teach or even sit down to analyze what they do!

How does the note end?…….. The air just stops or the bow slows and stops resonating the string. The amazing thing is in the right setting, even the listeners pause their breathing for a second in response to what just happened.

Oh yes, the tonguing of the following note in a passage is the most common way of ending a note in the first place. However, a little finesse helps in the end.