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Ending Notes

When I recorded myself for the first time, the first thing I noticed was how ragged the ends of my notes were. I'd been working so hard to get a good start to the note, but never paid attention to the end! So this page talks about some of the classic ways to bring a note down into silence.

Air Bleed

The most common way to end a note is to bring it down into silence fairly quickly, but not sharply. I struggled for a long time to do this, until I learned a trick: Letting air bleed out around the sides of my mouth.

This takes a bit of practice, but most people get it after a few minutes. Try this:

  1. Place your lips on the back of your hand, make a tight seal, and pretend you are breathing into a flute. No air should escape.
  2. Now relax your cheeks and lips. Let the air bleed out completely from your mouth and lungs. Practice this a few time.
  3. Next, try it on a flute. It can help to use a flute with a lot of back-pressure, but any Native American flute will do. Breath into the flute with a steady tone and simply relax your cheeks and lips.

It takes a bit of practice to un-learn the habit of keeping a tight seal on the flute's mouthpiece, but when you get it, you should hear a smooth, fairly rapid end to the note. Here's an example:

Example of the Air Bleed Technique

Clint Goss. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins. E minor flute of Spalted Maple by Barry Higgins

Can you hear the air bleeding out at the end of the note?

Video Example

Air Cut

Cutting the air sharply is a technique that can produce an interesting ending on most Native American flutes. However, on some instruments, it is almost a requirement.

The Chinese Bawu is a free-reed instrument that requires substantial air pressure to sound its note. If you supply less pressure, you get a lower, un-tuned note that can be "rather unpleasent". The challenge is to keep enough air pressure in the flute at the end of the note, without having it fall into that "rather unpleasent" note. The answer is what I am calling the Air Cut.

  1. Breathe normally and stop your breath by clamping your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  2. Now breathe a steady note into a flute and try the same technique with your tongue. You should hear a sharp, clean end to the note, but with no particular emphasis (unlike the pop, which is more of an ornament).

Here are four examples of note endings on this recording:

  1. The first two note endings are on a Chinese Bawu. I'm playing first without the air cut (allowing it to sound its lower "rather unpleasant" note) and then using the air cut technique.
  2. The third and fourth note endings are on a Russian Sopilka, a duct flute similar to a recorder. Again, the third note ending is without the air cut and the fourth is using the air cut technique:

Example of the Air Cut Technique

Clint Goss. Chinese Bawu. Chinese Bawu

Fall Off

A Fall Off (sometimes just called a “fall”) is a specific ornament where you let the note drop in pitch at the end. Unlike a slide, it is typically not done with the fingers, but with reducing breath pressure gradually to let the pitch (and volume) fall. This can be tricky to master, and takes some practice.

Excerpt from Night Song

James J. Pellerite — Excerpt from Night Song. Track 1 of Echoes and Boundaries.

This sound sample is a very short excerpt from Night Song, the first track on Echoes and Boundaries by James J. Pellerite. Notice how the pitch drops at the end of the note … all done with breath pressure.

The fall off is easier to achieve and more pronounced on flutes with small finger holes, since pitch on small-hole flutes is more affected by breath pressure. This is more of an advanced topic, so see How the Design of a Native American Flute Affects the Way it Plays if you are interested.

On sheet music, fall offs are indicated as Fall Off

Pop

Sheet Music example of a PopThis is a classic ornament for the Native American flute (and appears on the NAF Ornaments page as well). It's a great way to end a song or a musical phrase.

Here are various examples of pops:

Examples of Pops

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

The sheet music above/left shows a very common pair of notes to use for a pop. The pop is scored using an accented grace note. The accent indicates that the short grace note is louder than the main note. Notice that the slur over the notes indicates that they are played without any articulation or separation between the notes.

How to play a pop: Say “what”. Now say it with gusto: quickly and sharply, with a lot of breath pressure. Notice what happens to your stream of breath when you say it. The ending is cut off sharply. Try that in the flute while holding the bottom note on the flute steady. Now try it while timing the sharp “what” with a higher note … It is the combination of the grace note and the substantial increase in breath pressure that gets this ornament. That's it!

 
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