Long tone exercises are among the most boring to many students. They are also among the most valuable in developing a characteristic tone, a large and usable dynamic range, good breathing fundamentals, and good intonation. With a bit of creativity, these long tone exercises can also be used to improve articulation quality and consistency, slurring (both large and small intervals), and can help connect all the different extremes of the horn (loud, quiet, high, low).
Long Tones – One Caveat Before Practicing!
Probably the most difficult thing to do while practicing long tones – and where most students go wrong – is playing long tone exercises without thought, attention, and intention. While mindlessly playing these exercises can help you, you won’t get much return for your investment of time and eventually you’ll get no benefit (and maybe even regress). For these exercises, make sure you have a solid concept of what you want to sound like and what you want to accomplish and keep this phase of practice on the short side – 5-10 minutes or so – to keep your attention focused and to avoid excessively tiring out your face.
Remington Long Tone Exercises
I’m a fan of Remington exercises early in the warm-up. They do a good job of getting the air and tongue coordinated in the mid-low to low register – a somewhat awkward register for most players. They can also be useful as a cool-down exercise after a heavy day of playing.
While these exercises should be played as written in the beginning, once you are able to maintain a good, strong sound in the last bar of each Remington, you should attempt to extend the exercise downward – up to an octave. All the above-mentioned points should still be maintained, however. You can also start these on higher notes than I have written – for example, second-line-G, or third-space-C.
Schlossberg Long Tone Exercises
These are adapted from exercises from a great trombone technique book, Daily Drills and Technical Studies for Trombone by Max Schlossberg, and are a great way to practice lots of aspects of playing in a single exercise! During this exercise, pay special attention to the initial attack of every note and be sure to keep an uninterrupted stream of air going between all the notes in a bar.
The horn should come off the face between measures. Once these are capable of being played consistently as written, move on to different starting notes, adding different intervals for the middle or last note, different articulations, and dynamic variations.
HOW to Practice Long Tones Exercises
Although I’ve already mentioned several of these things, here are some things to keep in mind and variations to try once you are comfortable with them as written.
- Make sure that your tempo is slow enough – the quarter note should be about 60 bpm, but slower wouldn’t hurt. If you make it through two bars (on the Remingtons) at 60, it’s okay to start off a little bit faster (72 or 80) and work your way down to 60. 60 should be easy if you are breathing well. Use a metronome.
- Unless you’ve added a dynamic variation, the volume should be just louder than your “normal” comfortable level. It’s very easy to play these at a “mezzo-nothing” dynamic if you are not paying attention – resist this urge. They don’t have to be forte or fortissimo, but they should be on the strong side of your “comfortable volume”. When adding in different dynamics ( p, f, crescendo, diminuendo, etc.) pay attention to the contrast between your loud and quiet dynamics (both in decibels and in tone color). Remember, dynamics are relative!
- Although these are long tones, the articulation should still be crisp and clean. Make sure your tongue moves quickly, even though the tempo is slow. Subdividing at least eighth notes (or, better yet, sixteenths) before you start and during the exercise will help.
- There should be no gaps between the tongued notes (except when breathing). The only ‘break’ in the sound happens when you actually move the tongue – if there is an airy sound at the beginning of a note or a delayed attack, make sure that you are blowing through the articulation.
- Remember, in the Schlossberg exercises you want to remove the mouthpiece from your face and “reset” between each bar. This makes the first note in each bar feel like the first note of a piece.
- When you are changing notes, be conscious of the centers of the notes. You’ll find it’s much easier to bend pitches as you go lower (especially the low Remingtons) – make sure you are playing in the most resonant “center” of the notes – not too high or too low. Use a tuner! In addition to the “normal” way of using a tuner, try these variations to work on intonation:
- The “normal” way – set to equal temperament, and keep an eye on it while playing the exercise. If possible, try not to bend each and every note to “in tune”, but simply pay attention any tendencies on particular fingerings, repeated pitches, downward or upward jumps, or overall flatness or sharpness. Using these tendencies you can adjust your slides accordingly (assuming you were playing in the center of the notes and your right hand position was consistent and correct)!
- At a slower tempo, close your eyes at the beginning of each note, and bend the pitch up and down until it feels the most “full” or “resonant”. Then open your eyes to see where that falls on the tuner. Your tempo should be much slower for this variation so that you can find the resonant center of each note. Adjust your slides accordingly.
- Only look at the tuner for certain notes. For example, in the Remington you can close your eyes as you make the leaps downward, only opening them after you “lock in” on the low note. Alternatively, do the reverse – only open your eyes after you return to the repeated note. See how consistently your horns (and your) “pitch center” lines up with “in tune”.
- Get a feel for Just intonation. Set your tuner to “Just” or “Pure” intonation, and set the key to the first note (i.e. the key of C for the C Remington). Notice how “in tune” with Just temperament varies from “in tune” in Equal temperament – some notes are higher and some are lower. This is a much better system for playing in tune with other movable-pitch instruments.
- Ditch the visual aspect of the tuner and use a drone. Again, have the drone sound the first note of each exercise. Making adjustments to “stop the beats” will be a bit harder if you are used to playing in tune by lining up a needle, but this skill is vital if you want to play in tune in ensembles.
- Although the basic Schlossberg exercises are relatively easy, once you can play them with good and consistent articulation, start adding variations. I’ve written out several – changing the starting note, the middle note, the articulation, and adding dynamic variations. You can mix and match these different variations as well. I haven’t written out all the possible combinations, but if you are conscientious you can practice lots of things with just one or two of these exercises. Be creative, and make sure to record your practice so you cover everything efficiently!
Low Register Expansion with Remingtons
If the lower register notes are a challenge in the Remingtons (or, just in general), here are some ways to improve your lower register.
- If just getting the low register notes out is a challenge, try pitch bending. Starting from any comfortable note (low G is usually a good starting point, but your lowest comfortable note may be higher or lower) try to bend the pitch down one half-step without changing fingerings. Use a tuner! Once you can get a half-step (with a fairly strong sound) in tune, try a whole step. Continue down as low as possible with the pitch bends, always using a tuner and trying to play with as full a sound as possible. After a 3-5 days of practicing, try to move your starting note down one whole step and repeat the exercise. If you can’t get a good sound on the lower starting note, move it back up and keep trying!
- If tonguing in the low register is difficult in the lower Remington exercises, it’s okay to work down to the low notes by slurring. If possible, try tonguing the first note of the bar, slurring downward, and then re-articulating the following note. Cleanly (and crisply) articulating low register notes is a skill that must be practiced, so it’s okay if it takes some time to learn.
- If starting notes cleanly is a challenge for either the Remington or Schlossberg exercises, practice starting these notes with just the air (no tongue at all). Use a metronome to make sure the note speaks in time, but removing the initial tongue stroke can help focus the air and embouchure to be in the correct position for a specific note or register. Once the notes can be started easily with just the air, then re-add the articulation. If you are still confused about tonguing on the horn, go here and read and listen to the video!
- Low and loud notes are also something that must be worked on. Starting on a very comfortable note (like middle C), play the Remington as tenuto quarter notes with a hairpin from fairly quiet to as loud as possible (don’t worry about a good sound, yet). Keep the air moving between quarters – the tongue should only briefly interrupt the air flow. Once you can do a “full” C Remington as quarters, then play it as half notes, keeping the same dynamic contrast. Then move on to the G Remington and lower!
If you have more questions, or think I’ve missed something, please leave a comment below. If you want more specific help or want some one-on-one guidance, you can get in touch with me for French horn lessons (both in person and online) here.