Long Tones are exactly what it sounds like they are. They are a series of long notes usually in a successive descending or ascending pattern.
Why do I need to practice them?
Long tones are used for warm up or any other time when you feel like focusing on your sound. Long tones help get the air moving correctly and allow you to think about the quality/intonation of sound related to the physical placement of your body. Since the long-tone pattern is simple and easily memorized, you will have the brain power to make sure everything else is executed correctly--air intake/production, inner mouth shape, posture, stance, finger placement, etc.
How do I do it?
If you are new to long tones, start small by picking one range of your flute scale to work on at a time, and avoid extremes at first. I've provided a PDF document of what I give to my flutists who are in their first two years of playing. My best advice is to begin in the staff on a b-natural, as indicated in Trevor Wye's Tone Book, moving to a b-flat/a-sharp by slurring with a gentle crescendo--hold out the b-flat/a-sharp until your air is gone. Letting yourself completely run out of air will feel awkward and a little scary at first, but I promise it will get better! Repeat this pair, and then begin on b-flat and move to a in the same manner. Continue these two note groupings down the scale until you reach the bottom of your range--low f or a low c if you're more advanced. The goal of the long tone process is to seamlessly change from one sustained note to another with a steady air stream (i.e. no bumps or waves).
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What if my air runs out too soon? If you are new to long tone warm ups, you might run short on air for the first few weeks. Just be patient with yourself and focus on deep breaths and fast air through the flute.
- What dynamic should I use? In the beginning, a medium dynamic like mf or mp is necessary. Not too loud, not too soft. As you get more proficient, start practicing the long tones at different dynamic levels with a tuner.
- What if my low notes sound really weak? The important thing is to not force it. Keep the air moving quickly and your embouchure formation relaxed and steady--you will start sounding stronger in a few weeks if you keep at it every day.
- What if I get really bored? Go through a mental checklist in your head as you are moving through the longtones. Am I relaxed? Is my air flowing quickly? Is my posture relaxed and upright? Is there any tension in my hands, fingers, or neck? Mental imagery is also helpful when performing anything musically--think of a nature scene or an idea from a book you're reading and somehow relate it to the flow of the long tones.
- How many minutes should I spend on long tones before I get on with the rest of my practicing? Personally, I wouldn't spend longer than a few minutes--five max. Your time is limited, and you have music to get to!