Occasionally I come across pieces of music written for wind ensembles (or similar groups) such that the final held note of a piece is notated like so:

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In other words, the final note of the piece ends with a long note tied into an eighth in the last measure.

Yet in my experience this is taught to be no different than what I would consider a more standard notation:

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I have always assumed there is no difference in performance between the two, and that the upper notation is simply a reminder to play the whole note full value.

Is this accurate, or are there other explanations that I'm not aware of? Perhaps the upper notation is a more modern version of the older tradition of leaving a fermata over the final barline?

A few additional remarks:

  1. The upper notation tends to occur in faster pieces, and almost never in slow tempi.
  2. The upper notation could make more sense if, say, some members of the ensemble actually articulate an eighth note on the downbeat of the last measure. But this is not always the case; in fact, it very rarely is, because often the entire ensemble will articulate that final pitch.

So is there a difference between the two notations, or is the upper notation just a friendly pedagogical reminder?

  • A little reminiscent of the last chord played by a lot of bands, where the drummer goes all round the kit, and everyone plays the 'full stop' at the end. Generally a short full stop, and always on beat one of a bar. Good question - a specified fermata? Rounding up a particular number of bars? Matching up with the end of a previous section? – Tim Feb 26 at 5:33
  • What's the earliest example you have? – replete Feb 26 at 5:41
  • @Tim - ending on the downbeat of the next measure has more of a suspended continuing feel than ending on the last beat of the measure, which feels more final. It's kind of like the continuous fade where you fade out before the musical phrase completes so the audience is still sort of hearing it in their heads. When my band stops on the 4, it's for a very final in-your-face stop, bam we're done. We stop on the one to let them ride out the measure and feel the "yeah, that was the end". – Alphonso Balvenie Feb 26 at 5:45
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    @replete I'd have to look around (I didn't keep notes of which pieces, I just kept seeing this crop up), but I'm pretty sure my first encounter with it was in wind-band repertoire written about 15 or 20 years ago. – Richard Feb 26 at 5:48

I'm used to seeing the top notation in marching bands - the winds sustain the whole notes (and often crescendo), while the percussion plays some rolls or fills, and then there is a big crash on the downbeat. The eighth note on the end is often called the "release" or "release note."


My experience with playing concert band pieces that end with the tied eighth note is that we did indeed play the tied eighth note, and the conductor conducted that last downstroke.

This is in contrast to my experience playing concert band pieces that end with the whole note, where the conductor did not conduct an additional downstroke at the end, and s/he just plain stopped conducting after the last upstroke.

So yes, there are musical differences between a work ending with a whole note and one ending with a whole note tied to an eighth.

  • But did that make a difference in the sound perceived by the audience? I think that's the point of the question. – Carl Witthoft Feb 26 at 12:43
  • In amateur ensembles the conductor sign the end of playin with a kind of stop that the musicians play right this kind of 8th uncounsiosly ... otherwise the audience would hear a difference. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 26 at 12:58
  • Did I understand you correctly? The composer stops at beat 4 and never gives a subsequent beat 1 to indicate the end of the note (or the piece)? – Richard Feb 26 at 13:20
  • @Richard - Yes, you understand me correctly: the conductors never gave a subsequent beat 1 to indicate the end. They may have done little twists of the hand to indicate the end, but never full-blown downstrokes in those situations. – Dekkadeci Feb 26 at 15:27

As a performer, I would probably play the first version by remaining in "perform position" for the duration of the measure, making the silence part of the ending of the piece.

In theory :-) for classical performances, the performer(s) indicate the end of the piece by moving their instruments to "rest position," or removing hands from the piano keyboard, etc. So in the second version, the piece ends at the end of the whole-note measure. In the first version, there is a suspended silence.

  • you are right, as there are almost 4 beats rest, belonging to the piece. But most conductors and interpretes would keep the tension also in the second case. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 26 at 13:01

Yes there is a difference of course: (I am pretty sure the 1st picture isn't a music sheet of an unacompanied solo.

Imagine the piano accompaniment or the full orchestra has to play an 8th note in the last measure and the soloist is already walking out ...

The conductor will have to conduct the whole four beats of the secound last measure as other instuments probably have to play some tones e.g. as a triad with an 8th .

Or this is the part of windinstrument accompanying a violon solo or a small ensemble whre the soloist has to play a scale or something in the 2nd last bar ending with a 8th in the last bar.

And if this were a uncompanied piece for a flute the soloist would have to show by his gestures that he is counting the fisrt 8th of the final bar.

(In the second example the tone may be held as long as you like if no one else is playing, as it's the final tone you cant say what kind of ritertando you are counting.)

  • Pahh , I didn't read the end of your question: The upper notation could make more sense if, say, some members of the ensemble actually articulate an eighth note on the downbeat of the last measure. But this is not always the case; in fact, it very rarely is, because often the entire ensemble will articulate that final pitch and neither the given answers: everything is said already. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 26 at 10:10

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