You’ve heard it from every flutist and professional musician: long tones are one of the most essential parts of your practice routine. But in all honesty they’re not always enjoyable and they can feel really tedious. So how do we take something that can feel like a drag and turn it into one of the highlights of our practice session? Here’s 5 ways to reignite your love for long tones!
1. USE A DRONE
No, I’m not talking about those tiny robots that fly - I’m talking about done related to a sustained pitch or chord. Drones can be found on Youtube, Spotify, and depending on the model, your tuner probably has a drone feature! The benefit of using a drone is that they help you focus on intonation during your warm up. Instead of constantly watching a tuner to check how in tune every single note is, a drone will help train your ear to find where the pitch is right away. The best part is that you can choose what note to set it to so you can adjust it for different scales and repertoire. When you’re feeling nice and warmed up you can also use the drone feature to have some fun with improvisation. Let your heart sing, my friend!
2. USE A POP SONG AS A BACKTRACK
Take the power of a drone to the next level! Since most pop songs have a standard chord progression of I-IV-V-I you can use this knowledge to also challenge your ears (hello, aural skills, we meet again) so you stay focused during your practice. Long tones should always have a purpose to them - unfortunately, slowly playing notes up and down a scale will only get you so far - this is why we can use a pop song to motivate our goals. To make the most of your warm up try: matching the dynamics of the song, using different tone colors to reflect the mood/genre of the song, and practicing different types of vibrato that relate to the style of the song.
Once you’re warmed up you can also use pop music to practice scales and apply your articulation practice! I once attended a masterclass where the guest artist had the performer play Coldplay from their phone and then had the performer play Mozart on top of it….and you know what? IT WORKED. The performer had previously been slowing down and was lacking energy in their performance. After pairing the pop music with Mozart, that all changed! The classical and pop world are not as far apart as we think.
3. HAVE A PRACTICE SESSION WITH FRIENDS
Aren’t things with friends always better? Warming up with a partner is a great way to shake things up. Practicing with a friend also creates a perfect opportunity to focus on blending. Being able to work on blending pitch in a one-on-one setting is so much more beneficial than trying to do it in the middle of ensemble rehearsal when you have so many other things to think about! You can also use this time to bounce ideas off of one another and simply listen to each other to provide supportive feedback.
4. TRY SOMETHING NEW
If you are in school your professor might have you focusing on specific long tone warm ups, which you should absolutely do, but during the summer or when you’re no longer taking lessons, I definitely recommend trying out different warm ups! Musicians are always putting out new technique books and I believe that some of the newest technique books are the absolute best. Why? Because musicians are taking all of the knowledge their teachers have passed down to them and combine it with new techniques they have learned to give you the most efficient warm up possible.
5. COMPOSE YOUR OWN
And when you’ve tried all of the warm ups out there, write your own! Any way that we can challenge our brain is beneficial to our learning. You never know, you might even be the next author to the best long tone book!
What are some long tone exercises that you really enjoy? Was there anything that reignited your love for long tones?