Many teachers advocate practicing long tones, but what are long tones? They are precisely what they say they are - LONG tones. If you sustain a note in a comfortable register on your instrument for the entire duration of a full breath, then you have successfully performed a LONG tone. What is the value of practicing long tones? In my opinion, when done daily, they address and improve the following areas of woodwind playing.
1) Strength of embouchure
2) Air support
3) Consistency of tone throughout all registers of your instrument
5) Vibrato production (where applicable)
6) Smoothing out upward and downward slurs
7) Dynamic ranges and consistency of dynamics
9) Altissimo or extreme range playing
There are several ways to practice long tones, and for each of these methods, I advocate practicing with a metronome and a drone. Tempo and intonation are always factors in music. Some tone builders you should practice regularly are listed below.
1) Ascending and descending chromatic slur patterns
2) Mouthpiece-alone exercises
3) Pitch bending exercises
4) Long tone dynamic scales (with specific dynamic changes throughout)
5) Expressive vibrato long tone scales
6) Overtone exercises
7) Tuning the Unison and other Perfect Intervals against a droning pitch
8) Tuning other intervals with a droning pitch
Many of us have different practice routines, but I advocate spending at least 30 minutes each day to tone building at the beginning of your practice session. Among other things, it is a good way to get the air flowing and to establish good breathing habits.
There are Practice Tuning CDs on the market – these are great for your droning practice. Also, many of the Dr. Beat metronome/tuners provide several octaves of sounding pitches. Amplify your practice CD or Dr. Beat through speakers so that you can practice with drones while you are doing your tone builders. Also, check out phone and tablet apps featuring these same services.