Note Starts “Try This Quick Tip…”

Note starts can be a source of frustration in both beginning classes and ensembles, especially with younger groups. A common issue is that students do not get the air “turned around” quickly enough. The teacher may also find that poor starts are the result of poor coordination between the tongue and airstream. The air simply might not be fast enough to produce a quality sound at the beginning of the note.

A quick way to address such problems is to have students practice a series of long tones, starting the notes with air only. By removing the articulation, the student is able to focus on making sure that the airstream is on time and of a sufficient speed to produce the tone. One these “air starts” are of a desired quality that is consistent, the teacher can have the students reintroduce the articulation. 

Such an exercise helps the student to better understand the tongue’s role in helping to define the start of the note while it is the airstream that actually produces the sound. By working to make the start of the note on time and as well-defined as possible without articulating, students are put more in touch with what is necessary in terms of breathing and intensity and timing of the air. 

Try this quick tip to help your students improve their note starts.

Jim Shaw is the Director of Bands at Willow Wood Junior High School in Tomball, Texas. A graduate of West Texas A&M University and contributing editor to The Instrumentalist, he can be reached at

Related Reading:
It’s a Tuba Thing
No Work, No Reward
It All Comes Down to Communication (also by Jim Shaw)

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