So now that you know all about long tones, it’s time to hit the practice room! The concept is simple: challenge yourself to play long tones every day for 30 days.
First, choose which long tone level you are currently:
- Long tone newbie. You’re a beginner or younger student and have never practiced long tones before.
- Goal: Make long tones a regular part of your practice routine and find long tone exercises which you will practice consistently.
- Long tone frenemy. You have a love-hate relationship with long tones. You occasionally practice long tones, but you struggle with finding long tones that you like.
- Goal: Figure out how you can make long tones more enjoyable so that they remain a consistent part of your practice routine.
- Long tone lover: You are a firm believer in the benefits of long tones.
- Goal: Find ways to keep long tones mentally stimulating and add new long tone exercises into your routine.
I’ve broken this challenge into four weeks and included specific goals for each week. Since this 30 day long tone challenge is open to all instruments, I will not include specific long tone exercises. Instead, here are my favorite long tone exercises which you can adapt to your instrument. Be sure to always use a metronome to promote rhythmic accuracy and to keep track of your tempo!
- Choose-a-note: Pick a few notes in a comfortable register of your instrument. Play each note with a variety of dynamics, attacks, and releases. Practice with a metronome to see how long you can sustain each note.
- Scales: Practice scales (major, minor, full-range, chromatic, and any other variation) in whole notes. Start with one octave, then gradually expand your range.
- Octaves: Playing octaves slowly is great to build technique, listen for tuning, and build air support for larger intervals.
Interval training and tuning
- Fulcrum studies: Choose a note to serve as your fulcrum point, then play gradually expanding intervals around that note (minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd…..octave). Make sure to play slowly, using both ascending and descending intervals.
- Arpeggios: Practice arpeggiated patterns, focusing on tuning and even intervals.
- 12ths: These exercises work very well for clarinetists! Increase the difficulty of your arpeggio studies by starting on the tonic, going up a 12th (if you’re a clarinetist, just add the register key) then descending via the arpeggio until you reach the tonic.
- Dynamics: Choose a note to sustain at a variety of dynamic levels (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, crescendo/decrescendo). Practice with gradual and subito dynamic changes, paying careful attention to tuning across the dynamic spectrum.
- Double whammy: Choose a slow, lyrical etude or excerpt from your repertoire to play at half speed. (Clarinetists: I like the excerpts from Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony and Brahms’ 3rd Symphony.)
- Altissimo/overtones: Practice altissimo notes slowly to refine embouchure, fingerings, and other fundamentals. You can also sustain the partials going up and down the overtone series.
- Drones: Use a drone (in unison or harmony) to listen for tuning and balance.
Goal: 5 minutes of long tones each day
- playing with a proper embouchure to develop embouchure endurance
- taking deep, quality breaths to expand lung capacity (exhale all air before inhaling fully)
- using steady air throughout each long tone exercise to create a smooth sound devoid of any waves
Goal: 10 minutes of long tones each day
- playing with proper posture to facilitate maximum air efficiency
- maintaining proper finger and hand placement between each note as to not interrupt the sound
- creating long, flowing phrases without any “pops” or other interruptions to the sound; think horizontally (not vertically) to create musical phrases
Goal: 15 minutes of long tones each day
- playing long tone exercises in a variety of dynamics to expand dynamic spectrum
- maintaining focus during long tone practice to maximize improvement
- increasing the difficulty by slowing down the tempo, playing with drones, or other methods
Goal: 15 minutes of long tones each day
- actively listening to continuously improve sound quality
- creating new long tone exercises to keep you challenged and motivated
- making long tone exercises a regular and consistent part of your practice routine!