The Art of Practice, Part II: Long Tones


The oft-neglected long-tone.


In Part I of this series, I gave an overview of three basic components of the daily practice routine:

  1. Long-tones
  2. Scales
  3. Arpeggios

With the students that I teach, without a doubt the most neglected component of their daily practice is long-tones. And this is a bit understandable: without the right mindset, long-tones can be a bit boring.

However with a little creativity, a good long-tone set can not only do wonders for tone quality and breath control, they can actually be fun to play and accomplish many things at once.


What is a long-tone?

Long-tones are beneficial to almost every technical aspect of wind instrument playing. They are simple and are comprised of two basic components:

  • Slow, sustained notes held for an extended period.
  • Slow and gradual dynamic variation – i.e. crescendos and decrescendos.

The “classic” long-tone (if such a thing exists) is illustrated above. Practiced on a cycle of different notes for 5 to 10 minutes daily, unforced and gentle long tones like these produce tremendous results over the long term.

The main goals in practicing long-tones are:

  • the most beautiful sound possible
  • smooth transitions and even pitch throughout all dynamic levels

For myself, I practice the “classic” long-tone starting in the middle/low register and progress chromatically up or down, or in a cycle of fifths, depending on how I feel or what was practiced the previous day.

I avoid doing the same long-tone routine every day; a balanced approach not only keeps the routine from getting stale, but is also good for the mind and embouchure muscles.

Variations on a Theme

Variations on the “classic” long-tone can help to keep things interesting. A very simple variation is illustrated below:

Changing notes at the peak of the crescendo is beneficial towards blowing smoothly through valve changes. Martin Schuring (an oboe professor at Arizona State) has some some interesting variations along this line of thought that are worth looking at.

These variations may be taken further: a legato articulation and note change at the dynamic peak.

Again, the goal is blowing through the valve change and in this case, the legato articulation.

Flow Studies

Pushing the definition even further, a long-tone study may include any passage of sustained notes executed with expanding and contracting dynamics. With this broader definition, something more melodic – long phrases – might be considered a long-tone.

I have often heard the term “flow study” for this concept, which I believe is synonymous with melodic phrases shaped as long-tones.

There are numerous studies in print that contain flow studies. I highly recommend these:



For troublesome orchestral passages such as the low unison excerpt from Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony, it is possible to accomplish several goals at once. Your long-tone practice and excerpts may be incorporated into one all-inclusive daily exercise.


The excerpt (old notation):


A simple long-tone variation (new notation):


A “combo” exercise like this is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone and make the best out of your practice time.

Now – go practice your long tones!

Return to Part I

University of Horn Matters