Practicing Long Tones

The Benefit of Practicing Long Tones

Many students overlook their daily warmup, thinking that they need to get right to their music to make the most of their practice time.  Of the students who play warmups, many overlook long tones.  It’s understandable: long tones are, well, long, and they can be boring to play compared to flashier slurs, technique exercises, and music.  Personally, I find practicing long tones to be a vital part of playing brass instruments.  They are the only time players can focus purely on tone without worrying about the many other demands of the instrument.  Plus, the short time it takes to play a good long tone exercise has enormous benefits without taking up too much practice time.

The key to good long note practice is attention to detail.  For every note that you play, listen to every part of that note.  Make sure the attack, the tone, and the release all sound exactly the way you want.  You want to make sure the attack is not fuzzy or too loud; the tone is steady, open, and unwavering; and the release is clean.  If any of these is off even a little, replay the note until you get it right.  Then, make sure to rest after each note.  The idea is to gently warm up your embouchure instead of speeding ahead full speed into playing.  By doing this in your warmup, you are creating the habit of producing good tone in your playing.  Over time, this will automatically transfer over to the rest of your practice.

Long Tones in Your Practice

There are a few ways to approach the order of your long tones.  A popular one that works well for many players is starting at a comfortable central note and working outward.  This makes sure you can produce a good first note and helps loosen and “stretch” your chops as you progress through the warmup:

Practicing long tones in treble clef

Practicing long tones in bass clef

Some people benefit more from focusing more on the low range.  This is useful if you start off producing a thin or nasal tone.  The low notes, if played correctly, will help you open your teeth and relax into your instrument:

Practicing long tones in the low range

Many players also like to incorporate dynamics into their long tones, either as part of one of the exercises above, or as a separate exercise.  I recommend playing some of these if you are working on expanding your dynamic range, or if you find some dynamics are not responding as well during your practice session:

Practicing long tones with dynamics

Obviously, you can approach practicing long tones with a variety of methods. If you play long tones into your upper range, I would recommend easing into that range instead of immediately playing your highest notes.  While there are reasons you may start high, it is usually better for your tone to get the air moving and the chops loosened up in the low- to mid-range first.  Otherwise, virtually any combination of notes will work!  Experiment or consult with a private lesson teacher to find what works for you.

More Resources

Cover tiny fileWarm-Ups and Studies – James Stamp Cover tiny fileComplete Conservatory Method – Jean Baptiste Arban Cover tiny file Method for Trombone – Jean Baptiste Arban