Those Pesky Long Tones

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It is interesting to me how actually a very simple topic like long tones can also be a hot button topic. Back in 2008 I posted an article related to long tones where I shared a brief story.

Once I recall going to a master class by a horn teacher that poo pooed long tones. Any teacher that does not teach long tones in my opinion does not know what they are doing. This skill is essential and one of the most important things that you will ever master as a student of the horn.

I may have been a little harsh in my assessment then but I was reminded of it reading the article posted yesterday by Bruce Hembd. The point in the back of my mind being, why not teach long tones to students? There are teachers out there that I truly do respect that don’t push the skill much at all. At least two reasons why some teachers don’t focus much on long tones come to mind.

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One is that they can make you stiff. Extended playing of long tones can certainly leave your chops feeling a bit off. It is an activity you need to balance with flexibility studies; they are only a part of a complete warm-up routine.

The other is that if you have good enough students they probably don’t really need to work on them anyway. The underlying skills being

  • an ability to hold a perfect tone and
  • also the ability to make a perfect crescendo and decrescendo on a long tone.

If you can do those things, then actually you probably can get by fine without doing much with long tones. But if you can’t then get to work! There really is no way you will be able to play really exciting phrases; you will be firmly stuck in the land of caution and mp/mf.

To close I would offer this related aside. I was dedicated to one particular long tone exercise for years as the initial part of my warm-up. Then finally, one year, something snapped mentally, I had done that exercise as many times as I could stand it! I completely stopped doing long tones for a while, and then got back into it gradually but vary the exercise day to day. Overall this is a healthy approach, to vary the specific exercise, and I feel helps me stay on top of my playing.