Long Tone Exercises for Young Students . . .

harry63 writes “I teach flute lessons in my community and I am having the hardest time getting my younger students (grades 7-9) to practice their long tones. Their finger technique is excellent, but their tone leaves a lot to be desired. When I ask them I get the “but it’s so BORING” response. I have tried explaining the importance, but they don’t think it is necessary. Are there any suggestions on ways to implement long practicing without giving them boring exercises?”

13 thoughts on “Long Tone Exercises for Young Students . . .”

  1. I’m a 10th year flute player who never even heard of long tones until high school. I have never done the defined “long tone exercises”, but I have excellent tone. I also never had a lesson until I was in college, but I’ll tell you why my tone is so good.
    I used to, and still do, not practice, but play my favorite sad, long piece of music. That’s it. With that tecnique, I not only learned new, music, but practiced, long, annoying notes. I just made myself play the piece in time. And because I liked the piece, I cared about how it sounded. If you, or any other teacher for that matter, would use this tecnique, I think it just might work in the harder cases.

  2. I’m back. In “jazz” flute good tone may be desirable but not neccesary. Herbie Mann didn’t have the gretest tone either did bobbi humphrey, jayson lindh, jeremy steig, and many more. Jazz is about self expression. check out all the tenor players in jazz and compare their tones. They are all over the place. but if you want to develop good tone I somewhat agree with the last posting to a point. It is all about discipline though is it not?? You gotta do the work before you get the prize. My first teacher gave me overtone excerises before I knew what boring was. Here are some suggestions, record them and have them listen to themselves. ask them what kind of tone would they like to have? tell them that they will have to practice long tones and overtones to achieve the goal. improvise modes and resolve on long tones. Hey that’s jazz!! Ha Ha. I believe overtones and long tones are the only way to really achieve “clear tone” some people are just lucky like the last poster. but as I have stated before in jazz, since this is a “jazz” site tone is not the important thing. This is art people not interpretation like in classical flute playing

  3. Crissymoo – Don’t try to tell me that you have good tone when you think you are too cool for long tone exercises – get de la sonorite by marsel moyse and play through every exercise seamlessly. THEN and only then can you say “my tone is so good.” If you think that notes are “long, annoying” then you obviously don’t find the sound of your instrument beautiful.

    If you want your students to practice long tones, half of them will get fed up with it because they cannot actually get a good sound. Teach them fundamentals like support, lip control etc. so that they can actually get a good sound. If they go home and practice long tones with tight lips and throat with no support, they are simply wasting their time. Don’t tell them, “go home and practice long tones.” Just spend time in lessons actually teaching them support etc. and talk about support (also let them know it well help them play louder – always appealing) and teach support through long tones. Long tones are NOT a technique, they are simply a means of developing techniques like support etc.

    1. Bullsht. Chrissy probably DOES have good tone; what she’s done is a more organic way of practicing her tones than rote drills. I should know; like her, I never heard of long tone practice. I just understood that if I wanted to sound like my favorite flute players, I’d have to experiment with the sound, and better way than to start with slow music – Traumerei is a great one for improving your tone. Don’t presume to know someone; instead of making her look bad you wound up making yourself look bad – and ignorant.

  4. I think a good flute sound is very desirable.There is a professional sound that each performer has to achieve regardless of the music’s genre. To think that jazz is more forgiving to those with bad sound is a myth. No jazz great or even not so great, sounds like an amature. Not ever flutist may want to sound like Hubert Laws, but to even sound like Herbie Mann, Bobbie Humphrey, Joe Farrell, and many others takes work. The level of technique maybe different but they all have an expectable professional sound. Tones are like speaking voices they have to be developed. Long tones are boring because most think it’s just about playing a note and holding it until you pass out. I hated doing them until I was taught to try different ways of producing a sound. There is a huge different between knowing how to produce a sound and blowing. Which is too long to write about in this format. It is much more difficult to play soft on the flute than it is loud. To play in the upper register softly takes lots of support. Make your students think more about how to produce sound and where to produce it as opposed to thinking about blowing. It’s very easy to blow but it’s harder to produce different colors in your tone. Have them imagine playing with an egg in their mouth. This will stop pinched corners of the lips or lips pulled back like a smile. In order to play with this imagery they will need long tones in order to get use to it. I would like to end my babble with this.. lips and throats can’t produce sound. They can shape it or distort it but they can’t produce it. Whew, and I bet I still probably didnt answer your question.

  5. best tip I had was so called ‘throat tuning’: play any note you like; remove the flute and try and sing it like a fat opera singer with a great fat singing voice (pavarotti will do), then hold your throat/nose/face etc in exactly that position and play the note on the flute. the sound will knock you out!!! If you play even a semitone away from that note you will be back to your old rubbish sound – SO – pretend you’re singing that note a semitone away and you’ll get the great sound again. It’s fantastic too for tricky passages jumping up and down between register: just imagine you are singing it as you play and the notes will work. Long notes aren’t really relevant to this but it’s how to get a good sound. (remember not just support from an open throat but also to drop your soft palate at the back of your mouth – like in a gigantic snotty sniff – so that your nostrils and sinuses can resonate as well as your chest.)

  6. Flutechops definitely doesn’t really understand jazz. All the comments here are exactly what classical flautists would recommend. If you want that kind of tone then take lessons from a student of Rampal or Galway. Each has their own approach and tone. I like Galway’s, many classical players would disagree. Again Flutechops listen to Jayson Lindh’s tone lispey at best, yet he has recorded many fine albums on jazz flute, but he wouldn’t be first chair in the Chicago symphony. We are talking tone here not professionalism. Those are totally two different things and yes both take work. Jazz is an art form of rhythm, harmony, and melody. The great improvisers had a knack for it before they started to learn what modes were. Most of the early ones were playing modes before there were official rules for jazz improv. Jazz is an African-American art form. An expression of freedom by an oppressed people. The rules were written by students of the greats, yet the truly greats broke away from the rules as soon as they were written. I am talking about Miles and Coltrane’s post 60’s stuff as an example. It is not about chops. It is not about tone. It is not about making money and recording something that is acceptable to the baby boomer audience, who think jazz is Kenny G. Even Coltrane’s tone went through changes. Here is an analogy. A great painter may not be a great collage artist. And the collage artist may not be able to paint well. Maybe occasionally there is someone who can do both well, but more occasionally there are super expressive artists who can do neither of the two. Now who has good tone?? Understand what I am getting at?? Long tones are useful for developing tone. Listening to oneself while you play is even more valuble. You might be surprised at how many people don’t listen

  7. There is a lot of bad information out there about tone and what jazz is. I am glad this site exists so that some of those misconceptions can be aired in a public forum and corrected to stop the continuous propagation of erroneous ideas. It has been an uphill battle for the flute to be accepted as a viable jazz instrument and not be viewed as a novelty/miscellaneous voice. It is good to see that there are teachers out there placing emphasis on tone. Every instrumentalist wants to have an identifiable voice, which can only be achieved with hard work and good information. Do not be fooled by the idea that a good tone is only necessary for classical musician and that jazz is more forgiving. If you need to hear jazz flutists with good tone take the time to listen to Eric Dolphy, Frank Wess, Jerome Richardson, Kent Jordan, Ali Ryerson, James Newton, Joe Farrell, Dave Valentin, Lew Tabackin, and a host of others. Along with tone they all have rhythm, harmony, and melody. The history of jazz is important to know, but it is equally important to study your instrument to the fullest. The elitist idea that jazz music does not encourage or require a quality tone, just rudiments of music, is misleading. As a performing jazz flutist, whose CD’s have consistently made it to the jazz charts, I strongly recommend that you do not sacrifice tonal studies to settle for a mediocre sound. Otherwise you might want to call yourself names such as “badtone”, “fuzzytone”, or “awfultone”. Only someone who is accomplished and has spent time developing his/her sound would want to be called Cleartone.

    p.s.I went to NTSU also

  8. Ok this I find weird but I do not play flute I write for it and sing. As a singer there are problems with core sound similar to the long tone exercises in the flute you’re talking about. I had real problems until I had the kids make tunes using the harmonics and differential tones changing the colour of the sound by altering the vowel. If you do subtle changes with the tones to create tunes in the note the challenge to the students I had made them work hard. They became quite proud of being able to have a song in a note and worked for it. Needless to say the control those who did the work is extraordinary.
    Hope this helps.

    The tune_smith

  9. Offer prizes for pitch bending. It works for sax students. (I play flute as well)Also, even just starting the practice or lesson session with some really long notes, low and high for at least one whole long breath.
    To develop their embouchure for tone control takes ages. As bad for sax teachers. Just get them to play and inspire them to play anything! Transcribe for them their “most wanted to play” tunes, give them basic backing tracks to play with, anything but get them playing! The more the better, and once they have the desire to play, the embouchure will follow.
    Good Luck.

  10. When you play a ballad or a slow piece of music, you are playing long tones. So if your students don’t like playing long tones, just tell them to play their favorite slow pieces. Simple!

  11. Okay folks. Slow repertoire is no substitute for long tones. If they want to advance and have sufficient drive to succeed, they’ll spend time on their long tones and harmonics. If not, they’ll be a decent amateur flutist.

    MY Thoughts on the PURPOSE of Long Tones:

    I used to think Long Tones were like going to the Gym for your lips. Strengthen that embouchure! BUT, what I find is even more important to me about them is that by practicing long tones at the beginning of every practice you’re setting yourself up for how your mouth relates to your flute TODAY. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the inside of my mouth and the surface of that skin and the surface of my lips is not always the same every day. If I haven’t eaten or have eaten, or haven’t had enough water, whatever. We’re not always going to play the flute in “exactly” the same way every day because these tiny variations in condition of our skin makes some degree of difference to how we make sound. SO I like to think of those first long tones as “Telling my mouth how it relates to my flute TODAY”.

    SKIPPING Long Tones also creates the risk of over-compensating with embouchure to try to make a beautiful sound without taking steps to first map out how we’re going to produce that sound on each note. SO, charging ahead into repertoire and causing ourselves to overcompensate with embouchure over time can cause us to build muscles for a tight embouchure that is inflexible and results in a pinched bitten off sound. And early fatigue.

    I spend about 45min to an hour on long tones, and always with my low register. The Moyse De La Sonorite is a little boring…Trevor Wye’s Tone book is AMAZING and it does incorporate phrases of music into the long tone study. Mr. Wye also writes very smart and encouraging (and funny) forewards to each exercise. I use it myself. And always start on B4, BUT prefer to warm up my low register before starting harmonics. The note we start the harmonic on should be well centered and the best it can be if we expect to carry it’s tone quality through each harmonic,right?

    1. B4 (B4 is middle line of the staff) down to B3, quarter = 60, 3 vibratos to each quarter. First note for 3 beats, and the next note (half step down) for 6 beats. Then I play my harmonics starting on C4 up to B4.

    THEN I go back to B4 again, play it a bit until I’m happy with the quality and pitch and practice the octave up to B5, making sure the quality of the tones is the same between the two registers. Then I do it again and start descending long tones from B5 down to B4. Then I do a light bit of upper register from B5 up to C7 (without gizmo!) and move on to scales and technique after a 5 min break and some water. I do this because it is too much to try to do all your registers at one time. I go back to the high register after I play my scales and technical exercises and have had a good 15 min break.

    2. ALWAYS make sure first note (B4)is perfect. Sometimes I spend a couple of minutes just making that note right. Long tones will do you very little good if the starting note isn’t the most beautiful and perfect note you can possibly create. Play long tones with a BEAUTIFUL tone, as though you’re performing. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m on a stage when I play that first note. Many flutists (professionals too)play long tones like they’re trying to get the loudest biggest sound they can. This is NOT the point of long tones. Long Tones are intended to train us how to play beautifully, not hail a cab. It’s EASY to play loud…so it’s not what needs the work. Playing loud requires a very open and relaxed aperture, and when we play softly and dolce we want a smaller opening, which is more difficult to sustain right? What is more difficult is controlling the embouchure to play a nice, beautiful, full-bodied but sweet tone.

    ALSO the point of moving in half steps this way is to carry the sound of the first tone into the next using as little movement in embouchure as possible. It really works to try to pretend that the note you’re moving to is played exactly the same way as the first note. It results (for me anyway) in not only a sound that matches the tone before it, but the pitch is better.

    DON’T WEAR YOURSELF OUT!!!! This workout is very basic, though if you’re not used to doing this you will fatigue easily. Take a break in between each portion to give your lips a rest. AND it’s VERY important while holding hand position in one place like we do with long tones not to squeeze hard…I’ve caught myself gripping like I’m hanging onto the side of a building. This will injure your hands over time.

    Yes they can be boring, but once you start to see what they are doing for you from day to day…you’ll appreciate them, and eventually you’ll lose yourself in the tone when you practice them…holding long notes and enjoying the tone color and moving it into the next note…they can be nice and relaxing.

    GOOD LUCK!!!

  12. I’d also like to share that having your instrument in the best possible shape is key to having tone exercises do any good. If you’re working to play through leaks, or your headjoint cork has turned to mush(very common) you may feel like you’re playing long tones for nothing sometimes.

    My flute is in the shop having general leaks fixed right now, and ALSO my headjoint cork was replaced and you would not believe the power and projection you get from a new cork. My octave leaps are easier, I can play louder but it’s easier to do sudden dynamics. I never knew until now how important it is to do this every six months or a year. It’s inexpensive to have the cork changed (around $35). I can’t wait to get my flute back and see what long tones are like without leaks and improved headjoint!

    So, sometimes if you feel like you aren’t having results from hours of playing long tones, it might just be your flute!!

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