Rests for horns

• Oct 9, 2016 - 20:07

Any general rules for writing rests for horns?

In writing a score that includes saxophones and trumpets, I notice that I may not have allowed enough time for the players to catch their breaths. Given an average tempo (say quarter note = 120), how many measures can each go before their air is exhausted? And how much of a rest is enough? Is an eight or quarter rest enough to replenish? What if you write whole notes for a large number of measures - will the players squeeze in inspirations periodically on their own or are notated rests necessary there as well?

I know that this is not specifically a notation issue but would appreciate help if anyone knows the answers. Thanks.


A little context would be helpful in providing answers-
Is the piece for a marching band (as opposed to a concert band)?
Where in the horns range are the notes of concern?
Are the notes articulated staccato, or are they more legato?
What is the skill range of the players: high school, college, or professional?
Any other info you can provide would allow a more informed answer.
One thing that might help: purse your lips, and try to exhale over the course of the notes or phrase of concern. See if you make it to the end...

Indeed, it is important to know that sort of context. But in general, you don't necessarily have to write in rests - players are accustomed to working out for themselves where they can sneak breaths between notes. But even accounting for breaths, wind players generally appreciate longer breaks so they aren't playing non-stop for an entire symphony movement (whereas for strings it is not as big a deal.

In reply to by Craig Wilson

Here's a quick tip: Sing the passage in question through - and wherever you need to take a breath, let that be your guide as to where to leave space in the notation. That way will usually tend to produce more natural "human-sounding" phrasing for wind instruments. As Marc said though, if you don't leave enough space, the players will decide where to leave it anyway!

Note that the above is just a "rough 'n' ready" solution. Remember that in general, instruments with more air resistance (e.g. soprano sax) can play a little longer than those with less air resistance (e.g.baritone sax). Also, in general with wind instruments, when playing loud and/or in the lower register the air flows out more quickly than when playing softly and/or in the higher register.

It's not anything about the air, but everything about the chops.

All players know how and when to breathe to satisfy the needs of the music, even if faced with 32 bars of continuous sixteenth notes. The section in a big band will agree on breaths as well as the phrasing.

However, brass players (trumpets, especially) need time to allow blood to flow back into the lips. Eventually the other muscles around the mouth and in the cheeks will need rest, too. Not just a slight break but a few (or several) several beats or bars. Not as much of a factor for reeds (especially saxes), but still a consideration.

Musically, rather than physiologically, your lines and phrases will have natural shapes that infer (or demand) breaths, which you can mark if you want to assure your musical intent. However, breath marks are rarely, if ever, seen in professional big band charts.

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