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  1. #1

    Arrow The Importance of Long Tones.

    Since i first started playing all of my teachers have been telling me "practice long tones" i know they help your tone but what else. any other reasons for long tones.
    "Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn." - Charlie "Yardbird" Parker

  2. #2
    Forum Contributor 2011 TMadness1013's Avatar
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    Aug 2004
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    Endurance, building up your chops, practicing vibrato, good warm-up.

  3. #3
    Forum Contributor 2009 cleger's Avatar
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    Jan 2005


    Quote Originally Posted by tenorsax15yyy
    Since i first started playing all of my teachers have been telling me "practice long tones" i know they help your tone but what else. any other reasons for long tones.
    In the words of my instructor, "if you ain't got good tone you ain't got sh**". Isn't that enough reason .
    "If it ain't fun, I want no part of it, man. That's the only reason I play." - Phil Woods

  4. #4
    SOTW Administrator SAXISMYAXE's Avatar
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    Jun 2003


    Quote Originally Posted by tenorsax15yyy
    Since i first started playing all of my teachers have been telling me "practice long tones" i know they help your tone but what else. any other reasons for long tones.
    Isn't that reason enough?! Seriously, proper and diligent practice of long tones will help build your embouchure, breath control, ability to control note color and dynamics, the list goes on.

    You should make it a point to woodshed the long tones at the beginning of every practice session...for the rest of your playing life no less.

    Judging by the above comments, great minds think alike. No I didn't suffer from a fit of plagiarism, I was typing away gleefully with what I though was the first reply to this inquiry, when two more slipped ahead with much the same to say. Not the first time I've been accused of being a broken record!
    Last edited by SAXISMYAXE; 03-19-2006 at 08:12 PM.
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  5. #5
    Forum Contributor 2014 Pete Thomas's Avatar
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    Sep 2004
    Sunny Southampton, UK


    I used to practise long notes with a friend for 4 hours a day when I was young. I can't do that now but it was certainly useful. What I do now is combine long notes with fingering exercises - I find it's easier to concentrate without getting distracted. The real value in long notes (as with all practice) is focussing your mind on the sound. If you aren't concentrating it's not far from being a waste of time.

    So what I do now is end every scale, arpeggion, fingering exercies or jazz lick practice with a long note, and make sure I do these in every key. And I do them with and wthout vibrato.

    Another good exercise is long notes slurring octaves. Hold a note for a count of (e.g.) 16 slur up (or down an octave), hold for 16 then slur back down (or up) an octave and hold to end of breath. Repeat for every note

    Do this with and without vibrato. If with vib, you can count 16 vibratos.If without vib, make sure it really is without so that the note is as even as possible right up to the end of the breath - you need good diaphragm support to make sure there are no wavers especially towards the end as you are running out of breath.

  6. #6
    Distinguished SOTW Columnist and Saxophonistic Artist In Residence Tim Price's Avatar
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  7. #7


    I've always had a nice tone on the tenor for jazz. But for years I would not practice long tones. Only recently, maybe the past couple of months, have I started doing long tones. And man, they help a lot! The most important thing to do when playing long tones is focus in on the sound (like Pete noted). You want it to be as clear and clean as possible, without any wavers or anything like that. Just a solid tone. It takes more concentration than you think... but you'll get some amazing results if you keep at it.

    Then what I'd do once I hit that note is gradually decrescendo until I am playing as soft as possible and still producing a nice tone, and then I gradually get louder until I am playing as loud as possible while still maintaning a solid sound. This helps your dynamics quite a bit. Now I've found that I can play soft and still produce a nice sound, and play loud and still not overblow.

    I generally take it from low Bb all the way up to high F# (more or less altissimo). Sometimes I don't do longtones on EVERY note, but definately the ones that I can tell need work. For the longest time, my high C (C + octave) sounded horrible. But the more I do long tones on that note, the nicer it sounds. Same goes for any note.

    These are my warmups. Longtones are the first things I play when I get my horn together. I spend maybe 5-10 minutes doing just that, and then I start working on some exercises (slowly).
    "Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife." -Kahlil Gibran
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    Forum Contributor 2007 jacobeid's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
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    My warm up includes long tones, scale exercizes (around the circle of fourths, circle of fifths alternating major and minor around, arpeggios, etc.) I didn't start long tones until my teacher said I I started, and they help. A lot.

  9. #9


    Put yourself through a little bit of mental and physical pain. Sub-tone throughout the entire range of the horn starting on low Bb to altissimo wherever. Can be difficult to keep your throat in a sub-tone shape way up there but try anyways. Play low Bb for as long as you possibly can. A perfect sub-tone, full sounding low Bb till your face turns red and you want to gasp. Without releasing tension from your mouth take a big breath through your nose and go for the low B. Same thing. You know you will be doing this correctly if you have the urge to stop after the first 2 notes. Suck it up. Everday for the rest of your life. If you do it right, after the first 2 weeks you can bottle your sound and sell it...

  10. #10


    Sure, long tones are important, and they develop your core sound, but I find that you need to work equally hard on articulation, feel, and just plain swinging. It seems a bit lopsided to me when a player has a beautiful tone, but can't really articulate properly and doesn't have the feel of the music. Too many players today only focus on long tones and not these important things. In my opinion, it's what separates the greats from the rest of us.

    It's like getting a used car and painting the doors a shiny red, while leaving the rest of the car rusty grey.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Last edited by Grey; 03-27-2006 at 05:32 AM.
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  11. #11

    Default reply

    It's like getting a used car and painting the doors a shiny red, while leaving the rest of the car rusty grey.

    Hey, that's MY car you're talking about!


  12. #12


    In the late 70s I lived in Orlando FL. The best Alto player in town was Sam Marowitz (Woody Herman, ABC staff orchestra, etc.) I took four lessons from Sam. The entire 1 hour lesson consisted of me playing the C scale. Sam stood next to me with his eyes closed. I would play a note and alter the tone slightly until Sam liked the tone. Then he would nod his head and I would go on to the next note.

    It was a wierd kind of bio-feedback loop, with me playing the horn, and Sam's ears providing the feedback.

    Those four lessons with Sam probably improved my tone more than four years at North Texas. For teachers, I strongly recommend this technique to improve your student's tone.

    Another long tone trick I learned from a Stanley Turrentine interview. Practice your long tones standing very close to the corner of the room. This gives you the best chance of hearing all the subtleties in your tone.

  13. #13


    I keep meaning to do long tones... But somehow improvising tunes is just soooo much more fun!

  14. #14
    A.Smith's Avatar
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    Aug 2006
    Sydney, Australia


    Please people, let's not forget that long note practice can also greatly assist in improving intonation.

  15. #15
    vivace1's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Tallahassee, FL


    For me, the most important thing to do with long tones is to do them with a tuner. This really perfects the stability of the embrochure, not to mention really hones the ear into the subtleties of pitch. You'll also find out what an in tune palm d should feel like...(you're probably not used to it!)

  16. #16


    If I don't play long tones I miss them. They are hypnotic... and I can always discover something new just listening to them.

  17. #17
    Distinguished SOTW Member Turnaround's Avatar
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    Dec 2005


    Quote Originally Posted by moooose
    They are hypnotic... and I can always discover something new just listening to them.
    It is a great way to clear your mind and focus on one thing. They have always made me feel more tranquil afterwards.

    Overtones are also another aspect of longtones.

    I used to do longtones with the mind-set of a singer holding out a note. There is a great note that Jeff Buckley sang on the song Hallelujah. If you can come close to putting the emotion in one note like he did, your doing pretty good. Longtones also helped me understand the different timbres I can get out of my horn.

  18. #18


    at the beginning of this year I started practicing long tones.

    I'm a half decent alto player and a crap tenor player by my standards.

    I started off by grabbing 1 saxophone - setting my timer to 10 minutes and turning off the lights. then i'd just play long notes starting from low Bb and trying to match the tones in my low Bb to B. I'd continue that throughout the horn.that way my top end would in theory sound as thick and chunky as my low end (I was always told if your low end was bad then your top end was going to be bad)

    after days of doing 10 minutes I found that 10 minutes wasn't enough - I ended up going up to hour long sessions.

    This fixed my subconscious vibrato problem (lack of muscle strength), unified my tone across all registers, and then kept my tone good for an entire day, not to mention helped me with my harmonics. It also helped me to concentrate better. Also focusing on everything your body is doing when you play a low Bb is great. if you are playing on a great horn you should be almost totally relaxed... I spent a long time relaxing all my muscles so that they would relax - i got muscular pains from telling my muscles to relax.

    so yeah there is more than one benefit to long tones

  19. #19
    Forum Contributor 2011
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    RootyTootoot's Avatar
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    Well ok look at it this way: if you can get one beautiful long tone and string it together with a few more, wiggle your fingers about a bit.. What have you got? Well, music probably. It's fundamental. And think about tuning too, control of dynamic range, tone quality.. I could go on. And if you find long tones too "dull" and the meditative aspect doesn't appeal put on your favourite song of all time, put it on repeat, hone in, find just one note to play and hold it, play it again etc.
    "The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions."

  20. #20
    albertur's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Barcelona - Spain-


    Long tones, intonation, embochure, fingering, tongue, sound... so many BASICS to practise!!!!

    When I introduced myself in the forum last month, I said I was an intermediate player, but now I have changed my sax teacher (I think I’ve found a real teacher at last!!!!) and must correct myself: I’m just a beginner.

    After checking my level he sent me back to practise long tones, intonation, etc. for a week. I felt as a real beginner when I realized the long practicing that takes to get a good sound and intonation through long tones.

    I felt as if, after having written a novel, the publisher would have told me: OK, the story is good, but you must correct all the misspellings.

    Back to basics!!!!

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