I've heard several instructors teach students to actively inhale slightly when ending a long note. The logic is that the active inhale will obviously stop the exhaling airflow, and in doing so will create a clean and clear end to the note.

But I've also heard musicians say that this is unnecessary; if we simply end the airflow, that's enough to end the note. (By "end the airflow," I mean "stop exhaling," not stopping the air by means of the tongue.)

As a tuba player specifically, I've always opted for this latter approach. Instead of actively inhaling, just stopping the airflow helps me "shape" the end of the note in an effort to create more resonance with the ensemble.

Is there an audible difference between these two approaches? Are there perhaps musical environments where one is more suitable than the other?

  • Have you tried the alternative method and found there's a difference? – Tim Jan 3 at 11:27
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    @Tim I have and don't hear a difference, with the exception of being able to shape the note. But that strikes me as a different scenario, since I'm no longer trying to "cleanly" end the note. – Richard Jan 3 at 11:30
  • A breath mark seems like a good place to inhale? – cmp Jan 3 at 12:09
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    Might ask my clarinet teacher about this on Tuesday – Todd Wilcox Jan 3 at 13:43
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    My current hunch based on my previous experience playing clarinet is that yes, there is a difference, though I'm currently interpreting "stop the airflow" as tonguing the note, and I'm not 100% sure that's what you mean. – Dekkadeci Jan 3 at 13:59

I'm a trumpet player, and I "just stop blowing" to end notes. When I tried the "inhale to stop" approach, the initial results were that the pitch sagged right at the end; however, I believe I could eliminate that with practice. The other difference is that the "just stop blowing" ending is a bit "rounder" -- more tapered -- and the "inhale to stop" is more abrupt. That feels inherent, so perhaps that approach would be useful when a very sharp release is desirable: say, looking for a crisp sound in a reverberant room, or to emphasize sharpness of ensemble in a horn section. In those cases, though, I would be more likely to use a tongue-stop, which gives the sharpest release.

I could see using the "inhale" approach as a teaching technique for students who stop the air by closing off their throat. It might develop awareness of the felt difference between closing the throat versus keeping it open.

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