Something Simple That Pros Do- Part 2

I hope that your tone has improved since the last post. If you follow the 5 step process, then your tone is guaranteed to improve. It’s easy, simple, and effective. Now I want to share with you why the 5 step process works. This information will help you be excited to play long tones!

I Have a Question for You

Do you find it easier to complete tasks if you understand:

  • Why you are performing the task
  • What’s happening as a result
  • What the benefits will be

I find it easier to complete tasks when I have this knowledge too. It’s much easier to practice long tones when we have the answers to these questions, and know the “why”. On the other hand, if you don’t know why you’re doing long tones (or know its benefits) it can be more difficult to continue on. For example, here’s what many music students hear when they’re encouraged to play long tones: “Do long tones- they help your tone improve”.

Does that make you want to stop reading this post and start practicing long tones right now? Probably not. Instead of providing this answer, I’ll share what’s happening inside your mouth and what your tongue is learning while you practice long tones. In other words, long tones are not “busy work”. Your tongue is actually learning and improving, and you may not even know it!

Did You Know?

Did you know that your tongue can change the tone on your saxophone? By moving your tongue, it changes the direction and speed of the air moving into the saxophone. If you’ve never thought about this before, the thought of applying this concept could be viewed as overwhelming. You may think, “Now I need to think about my tongue placement too? Argh!”

It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. How do you change pitch/notes when you whistle? You move your tongue. When a child learns to whistle, you don’t coach them on their tongue placement; it just kind of happens. Your tongue works in the same way when improving your tone. Teaching the tongue to be in the right place at the right time just kind of happens- with the right exercise.

That’s a Smart Tongue!

Your tongue is very smart. So smart in fact, that it’s always working to improve your tone. No matter what embouchure you are using, your tongue works to make you sound the best. You can help out your tongue by doing long tones. Here’s what happens!

What Your Tongue is Doing

As you play a long tone, your tongue immediately searches to find the perfect place for that note. The duration of the long tone allows the tongue some time to figure out where it needs to be, in order to get the best tone. If you play a long tone, and the note doesn’t want to come out cleanly:

  • Don’t stop playing the note
  • Hold it out even if it doesn’t sound great

Your tongue needs time to figure out where it needs to be in order to make that note sound beautiful. So, don’t back off on an ugly note! Hold it out and play it loud. After a little bit of time you’ll notice that the note will begin to lock in and sound better and better. Pretty soon, the note will sound great from the first moment you play it. Why? Because your tongue has time to figure out where it needs to be in order to produce the best tone possible. This is why we practice long tones, and this is why it works.

The Result

After you spend time with long tones, your tongue will know exactly where it needs to be for each and every note. As you play different songs, your tongue will make slight (or sometimes major) adjustments in order to stay in tune and produce the best tone. Most of the time you won’t even know your tongue is making these adjustments. Your tongue will do this automatically. Not bad for spending a little bit of time doing long tones.

Give it a Try

So jump in! Spend a little bit of time practicing long tones and your tongue will greatly reward you. Let me know about your experiences by sharing in the comment section! You’re going to sound great!

An Example

A request was made for an audio example of a long tone. Here’s an example on alto, playing a low F.

Comments 4

  1. Hello Mr Jeff, I am really enjoying your tips on tonguing and improving tone quality, thanks very much, u make a great teacher honesty!!!

    However, I will want you to enlighten me more on your silver and gold lesson series and also recommend books that could be of help for me which are easily accessible.

    Thanks, Salami.

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  2. (Great).I have been doing long tone for 12 years, and did not know what the tongue
    was doing in this case, i thank you for making me know about the tongue, thank for that and keep the work.

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      Hi Derrick,

      I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the post. Hopefully, understanding what’s occurring through long-tones will make it easier to practice them on a daily basis. I know it does for me. Keep up the good work!

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