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Much recorded pop music has endings that fade to silence. If a live all-acoustic band is trying to perform such pieces, it's not really feasible to do a fade. So what other techniques are available to performers and arrangers to end a piece without a fade but in a satisfying way that doesn't jar?

Note - for clarification, the ensemble I work with is an amateur UK brass band. No microphones, no amplification, no vocals.

  • Fading out is to make it easier to play on radio. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 10 '16 at 11:27
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    Shave and a haircut, two pence. Every time. – Whelkaholism Aug 12 '16 at 12:12
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    @Whelkaholism That only works for bluegrass... :-) – TimH Aug 12 '16 at 16:44
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen: Nah it's so you don't have to bother writing an ending. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 14 '16 at 14:15
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit no - it is much easier to fade out a number on radio when it doesn't have an explicit ending. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 14 '16 at 20:21

10 Answers 10

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I'd recommend just finding a number of fade-out songs and looking for live videos on YouTube (etc.) to see how they're handled.

There are a number of ways, but here are some common ones:

  1. If the recorded version ends in a vamp, it'll be based off of a repeated harmonic progression. Just end the progression in a cadence at some point. Often there's a brief ritard. before the end to cue the listener in to what's coming. This is typically saved for songs where this ending would make musical sense: ballads, for instance. See The Police's Can't Stop Losing You.
  2. Using the fade out to transition to another song. This seems especially common for more high-energy, active songs. In my opinion, a good band will mix elements of the two book-ended songs in the transition to smooth over the motivic transformation, but obviously this isn't a must.
  3. You can also end without a cadence, as shown in this live performance of Elton John's "Levon." Here the lack of resolution is intentional: it keeps the energy up and the crowd anxiously awaits the next song.
  4. You can also just plain create something new, no matter how long or short, as Elton John does here for "Crocodile Rock." It's short and sweet, but you know the song is over.

For what it's worth, Elton John has a ton of recorded songs that fade out. Maybe use him as a good case study to see what all he does!

Edit: Since you're working with a brass band, I would say the best bet would be to create a little tag ending or transition of some kind to move between two pieces. I'd be happy to write a little transition for you if you'd like! ;-)

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    The Who, IIRC, would go into a jam session after "My Generation" sometimes over 10 minutes long. – Cole Johnson Aug 11 '16 at 19:31
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    Do not do it like the Eagle's live performance of Hotel California; they just ended the tune abruptly, omitting the entire instrumental ending (which was a good third of the original album version). – David R Tribble Aug 12 '16 at 16:26
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    @DavidRTribble: Huh. They didn't usually chop the ending off, I don't think; or if they did, only the exceptions are on YT: 1977, 1995, 1998 HoF induction (that last is cheating, of course they don't chop it off there :-) ). – T.J. Crowder Aug 14 '16 at 8:27
  • @T.J.Crowder: Something from the faded depths of my memory tells me that it was their Hell Freezes Over tour, but I may be mistaken. I do distinctly recall hearing a truncated live version on the radio, perhaps 20(?) years ago. – David R Tribble Aug 24 '16 at 21:55
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Another option is to actually overplay the fade out! The singer slowly stepping away from the microphone, the drummer dramatically only slightly touching the drums, etc. This kind of "comic overdoing" works if

  1. the original piece has a really cliché fadeout, and
  2. the audience is both familiar with the fadeout cliché, and recognizes that you are lampooning that cliché

This can e.g. work to lighten the mood at the end of a slow ballad.

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    It's particularly fun if you actually continue moving for a couple more bars in complete quietness. – leftaroundabout Aug 10 '16 at 8:32
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    I would really like to see this in practice. Could you perhaps link a video? – akaltar Aug 10 '16 at 11:10
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    youtube.com/watch?v=bmSoJONyhgg At about 6:30. – UserPersonGuyMan57 Aug 10 '16 at 12:31
  • But not much help for the OP's group :-( – Carl Witthoft Aug 10 '16 at 13:36
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If a live all-acoustic band is trying to perform such pieces, it's not really feasible to do a fade.

It's a little-known fact but most acoustic instruments and even vocals are capable of producing a large variety of volumes.

In addition, an "acoustic fadeout" does not necessarily require all instruments to fade out exactly the same. It's actually rather effective to give the singer the last repeat, but that's by no means the only option.

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    +1 for "little-known fact" :-) . And then there's "Neptune," where Holst directed that the choir should be offstage and faded by means of dropping a curtain between them and the stage. Dang - ninja'd by userXXX below. – Carl Witthoft Aug 10 '16 at 13:38
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What Gustav Holst did in... Neptune, I'm 99% sure ... was he had the female choir in another room, and someone slowly closed the door on them.

Of course, that can't quite happen in most concert situations, but it's an idea.

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    Yup, it's Neptune. +1 for this obligatory reference, though I daresay this is impractical for a typical acoustic band, or at least silly if done more than once. – leftaroundabout Aug 10 '16 at 8:33
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As Richard said, such fade-outs usually go over a repeated vamp. Rock bands tend to cycle that vamp as long as they think the audience can bear it, then the drummer plays a fill to cue the others into the final chord, which is then simply held for a couple of seconds (often with tremolo guitar flailing and more drum-roll filling), culminating in a fat unisono hit. Of course, most songs are arranged for playing live before being recorded, so it could be argued that the fadeout is more of an afterthought to get rid of such a live ending – which would be a bit ridiculous on a studio recording...
The Police are notorious for this: virtually all their studio recordings end with a fade out, whereas live it's mostly frantic jamming around until the end.

Thinking about it, the way many classical orchestral pieces end is actually pretty much the same...

This kind of ending can work with an acoustic group too, but it can also come over rather silly, if you haven't a big amplified sound for the final chords. It's usually better to not overdo it with the final culmination – better just start a ritardando at the last two chord changes, then emphasize the penultimate bar (e.g. stop the usual rhythm and just play crotchets, perhaps, if it's a dominant chord, split it up in two sus4 chords, two seventh chords, and then finally bring the tonic, rather more quietly.

What can also work very nicely, especially with acoustic instruments, is to stop playing chords at all in the final bars, and find some nice melodic hooks instead that lead to the final tonic.

5

The SEGUE is a useful tool. It actually obviates the need for an ending. Several songs can be played consecutively perhaps with key changes, and even with time signature and tempo changes. Probably works better rehearsed, but a band I was in regularly did this, with numbers not being in the same order each gig. We might do sets of an hour, with only the last number actually needing an end. Some of the time it was the drummer who kept it all together.

4

One could just compose an ending for the piece based on the material just before and during the fade out. (Build a cadence from song material; the hook is good material as is repeating the ending of one of the sections.) The ending could be designed to finish during any part repeated part.

Anything is good as long as it sounds like it fits the piece.

4

Like the Police and Elton John, Supertramp have also added explicit endings to many of their songs during stage performances. Good examples are the live recordings on the "Paris" album compared to their counterparts from the studio albums.

3

You could take turns stopping - let's say one person stops every one or two bars, or perhaps every four bars if you want to make the fade out last longer.

Before each person stops they need to try to play quieter and quieter. You could work out a fixed order of who stops first, and always use that whenever you want to do a fade out. Or, you could make it vary from song to song, which would be nicer for the audience I think.

That way, the song naturally fades out. Some band members won't be able to vary their volume as much as others but it doesn't matter too much.

3

You can emulate the fade-out if you really want to. As you probably DON'T want to, the arrangement will have to be written with either an ending or a segue to another number.

You say you're working with a brass band. Where are these arrangements with a fade-out coming from?

protected by Dom Aug 11 '16 at 0:56

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