I had a teacher long ago tell me that when it came to producing quality notes on a musical instrument, there were four parts of each note to be aware of:
- the beginning,
- the middle,
- the end,
- and the silent space afterwards.
Within the practice of improving pitch accuracy, the focus seems to naturally gravitate towards the beginnings of notes, since this is arguably where the majority of pitch mistakes occur on the French horn.
Accuracy is, without a doubt, a major aspect of horn playing to be tuned into. No one enjoys listening to a cavalcade of horn clams. Even a very few, well-placed clams can ruin a moment and draw unwanted attention.
The circle of life
However on the opposite side of a note we have its ending. To a certain degree the handling of that ending plays a factor into how personal expression and artistry are gauged.
Think about any of the great performers of our time, and not only do they produce beautiful tones but they also know how to give listeners a chill with beautifully placed landings.
In a large ensemble setting, a few examples of artistic note-endings might include:
- a phrase that fades into another instrument’s entrance, in a sense “handing it off”
- sustaining a note at full volume until its conclusion
- matching note ends with spirit of the music and with what is going on around you
In a solo or chamber music setting:
- a perfectly-timed vibrato
- a diminuendo that fades to nothing
- a color change of some kind
The ends of notes are what fall into the silent spaces and generally speaking, these end-moments are key towards keeping yourself and listeners (including other musicians) spiritually engaged in the music.
Think of note-endings in music as organic connective tissue; in the larger sense, tuning in through note-endings connects you to others. (It can also be fun and energizing.)
So a good tip is – that if you feel that your attention is wandering while practicing, or that your energy is waning in a concert – to try engaging yourself more with the ends of notes.
Commit to the very end and follow through with notes and phrases, until the silence itself takes over.