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So often a SOTW member will post something like "I just did 2 hours of long tones" I get the importance of long tones but if I only have two hours to practice each day, it's not going to be long tones.
 

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I tried and failed to find my source for this story, so I am going to push ahead with it as if my forgettery has not already overtaken my memory. Believe me, it has.

Red Rodney:
"One time on the road I happened to get a hotel room right next to Bird. We were not working together, but he was already a legend, and I wanted to learn as much as I could from him. So I found excuses to stay in my room to listen to him practice. I thought, 'Now I will be able to get the inside story on how he figures out his music!' You know what he did? Over and over again he just sat in there and played one note at a time. Mostly a B. Holding it out to make it sound the way he wanted. For hours at a time. I was really disappointed."

I thought I would find this story in Ira Gitler's "Jazz Masters of the 40s" but my copy has gone missing now for over a year.
 

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You'd have to threaten me with something to make me do much. But holding a C# for 5 minutes a day has affected so much more than tone for me K
 

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Surely so many people can’t be wrong? If everyone tells you long tones are good, then it’s most likely they are speaking from experience, and are right. What’s the name of that theory - that the simple answer is probably right? Occam’s razor?
 

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You'd have to threaten me with something to make me do much. But holding a C# for 5 minutes a day has affected so much more than tone for me K
Exactly, Keith. You know....occasionally I will see people insert doubting commentary regarding long tones in certain discussions.

One guy last week actually suggested (borderline insisted, really) there's no need to do 'em because most players do not struggle holding a whole note. Seriously, that's what he wrote - as if that's the point of practicing long tones. To hold a whole note....or even a pair tied together......

:|

The thing about long tones is...it builds your embouchure. It also dials you into your particular horn. It builds your endurance. And lastly, it 'centers' your sound, gives it some beauty and guts. Muscle memory. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Over at the CafeSaxophone there was this ongoing thread about a teen who purchased an 70's/80's Borgani and was absolutely convinced the horn had been fabricated with misplaced toneholes because the intonation was so awful. This thread went on forever, and actually got into some prickly debates between a few repair folk there who had different theories on corrective measures. The kid's mom presented some lists of notes and how off they were, and the lists were almost unbelievable (i.e. a C and a B literally being perhaps 20 cents away from each other, etc).
Every second page of the thread, some participants would just come back to "oh, well, the horn is probably a really bad lemon". Which seemed so unlikely to me, given the supposed extremity of the problem.
FINALLY....finally....finally.....after weeks of cyber-ink and debate on the subject - the mom posted a vid of the kid playing the horn to a tuner, and it basically sounded like a young inexperienced player playing a sax.
He only held each note for like 2 beats before moving on to the next, and even in those 2 beats you could here the tone wavering. He had zero blowing support.

There was nothing wrong with the horn.

The kid had horrific blowing control, and while he may have been able to marginally get away with it on a rented Yamaha, in a school band situation....the Borgani (a horn which intrinsically doesn't have bad/tricky intonation, honestly) amplified/exposed it...and it was bad, really bad.
Yet here was this kid, playing tunes in band and he even supposedly had a private teacher. It was head-shaking, really.

Today on my website, I received this inquiry:

Good morning,

I was just wondering if you ever come across a sax with virtually perfect intonation. I can't afford a Selmer or Yamaha professional sax right now, and I struggle with intonation anyway.

Thanks.


Not an unfair question from a relatively inexperienced player, really. I answered it seriously and honestly.

So.....Practice 'em for two hours ? No I wouldn't do that either. But there are a plethora of positives which come out of practicing long tones.
 

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IMO long tones are essential for beginners developing their tone and stamina. But once you've learned how to play, and continue playing regularly, you probably don't need them. I honestly haven't done long tones on sax since I was a kid. I get plenty of long tones practice just playing in a couple of bands. No need to practice that. I still do them quite a lot on flute because it seems to take a lot more effort to keep my flute chops up than my sax chops.
 

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It's always impossible to answer the question "is such and such over-rated?" Because it's comparing two opinions (mine, and whatever I imagine the consensus opinion to be). And in the end an opinion is just an opinion. Are donuts over-rated? To me, yes. To you, maybe not.

But with regard to the specific idea of practicing two hours of long tones every day: I think you're correct in assuming that only someone with unlimited amounts of practice time is even in a position to consider that.

One of strengths of the this forum is it's open to everyone. But it's also a weakness sometimes, because the advice that works best for an aspiring professional isn't always the best advice for a hobbyist. Doing hours of long tones every day would probably be a great exercise for a conservatory student who has 8-10 to practice, but obviously is not doable for the guy who has to get his whole routine done in one hour.

FWIW, I think roughly 10-15% of practice time should be long tones and overtones. It's certainly helped me and I think most guys will say the same.
 

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These are cut and pasted from another thread:

I will compromise with you a bit... I read about people who are more advanced players sitting around doing 5,10 15 minutes of longtones every day claiming they are "developing their sound" and "achieving some sort of mystical/spiritual/meditative higher level of self actualization." blah blah blah. These people are the most deluded of all. These are also the same sort of people who waste days, months, years with mouthpieces, reeds etc. I used to be one of these people. Just like long tones, equipment is just another distraction taking you away from making music. Beginners DO need to develop their embouchure, but they don't need long tones to do it. The few things I have figured out in this life is that long tones are not necessary, and also how to not waste time fiddling with equipment. The horn is on the stand, the mouthpiece works great, the reed takes a minute to get wet. If I need a new reed, it takes an additional 1-2 minutes to sand one/clip one down to where I like it.

Learning how to do ovetones are necessary and valuable for beginners. I do the whole thing with playing in the 2nd register with and without the octave key with my students to show them and have them do it. I demonstrate how I can switch from a high B to a middle B etc. without touching the octave key, or on clarinet from high A to middle D etc. Once a student figures out how to voice notes and make overtones, its done. This is not something to spend more time working on.

Me and my students play scales with a metronome. Scales can be beautiful and satisfying, fun, challenging, interesting, combines fingering, articulation, embouchure and scalar melody into practice time. You get ALL of the benefits you get playing long tones PLUS integrate a range of other skills, without the boring, and for woodwinds, overtones by themselves are horrendously boring. When it comes to opposing boring activities, I'm a militant anti-boring extremist. Me and my students have fun. They learn MUSIC. In the world of music, things that are boring are not worth spending ANY time on, unless they are necessary, like brass players, who have no choice in the matter. Either play long tones, or give up being any sort of serious/real brass player.

So to get back to my original point, the most important job of a teacher is to show a student how to make their practice time as productive as possible. 4 one person's 4 hours can equal 30 minutes of another's.

Nobody absolutely NOBODY needs to 'warm up." Stop wasting time "warming up." BRASS PLAYERS need to warm up. Athletes need to warm up to avoind injury. You car engine and transmission fluids needs to warm up before you get on the highway and do do 70 mph.

Pick up your sax, wet the reed, and start blowing end of discussion. Start working on whatever you are working on and forget about "warming up." Maybe you are working on some scales, maybe some classical pieces, maybe you are putting on iRealpro and playing Stella by Starlight in all 12 keys. Just do it, I promise you nothing bad will happen if you don't "warm up," you will just get to the task at hand that much sooner, which is always a good thing. If your teacher tells you that you need to warm up, do long tones, or engage is some similar stupidity, you are being manipulated. Find a new teacher ASAP who has you going straight to doing meaningful musical things.

You people all really seriously need to emancipate yourselves from this sort of depressingly rigid thinking. Get past all of the OCD distractions and start practicing right away without the equipment bs, the long tones, the warm ups, hang ups etc.
 

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Everyone has their practice quirks. I tend to follow the same schedule most of the time.

00:01 chromatics. I have it stuck in my head that a perfectly played chromatic scale makes me sound better.
00:04 long tones. 8 beats pp to ff, 8 beats ff to pp.
00:05 play a song I already know. Try to be musical.
00:20 patterns/technical exercises. I'll work on the same group of 5-10 for a week or a month.
00:20 apply the patterns to different songs and situations.
00:20 learn some new songs

These days, a little over an hour is about all the practice mojo I have. I do it more than once a day sometimes, I'll go a week without sometimes.
 

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I will compromise with you a bit... I read about people who are more advanced players sitting around doing 5,10 15 minutes of longtones every day claiming they are "developing their sound" and "achieving some sort of mystical/spiritual/meditative higher level of self actualization." blah blah blah. These people are the most deluded of all. These are also the same sort of people who waste days, months, years with mouthpieces, reeds etc. I used to be one of these people. Just like long tones, equipment is just another distraction taking you away from making music. Beginners DO need to develop their embouchure, but they don't need long tones to do it. The few things I have figured out in this life is that long tones are not necessary, and also how to not waste time fiddling with equipment. The horn is on the stand, the mouthpiece works great, the reed takes a minute to get wet. If I need a new reed, it takes an additional 1-2 minutes to sand one/clip one down to where I like it
One of the most misguided set of comments I have ever heard on the subject.
So many ersatz claims in this I wouldn't know where to even start....
 

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You'd have to threaten me with something to make me do much. But holding a C# for 5 minutes a day has affected so much more than tone for me K
I've always heard that you're supposed to do it on every note, which I try to do. Have you heard differently? I'd love to only have to do one note :)
 

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Long Tones are gold, but only if you do them purposefully. Also, work them into exercises. They're like scales: you can practice your scales AND _______(articulation, tempo studies, etc.).

But if you're mindlessly blowing, you're not working on anything. 10 minutes of focused long tones are more valuable than 60 minutes if mindless ones. But the struggle is real for mentally focusing on 1 note. I wouldn't time them, I'd instead do long tones until you feel you've accomplished your goal (step 1: have a goal). I have never believed the people who say "I'm only getting warmed up after an hour of long tones." They are the type that usually talk about how 5s are too soft and that they specific horn is the best because of serial numbers blah blah (a joke!).

But long tones are (sadly) *that* good for you. But don't kill yourself doing them.
 

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These are cut and pasted from another thread:

I will compromise with you a bit... I read about people who are more advanced players sitting around doing 5,10 15 minutes of longtones every day claiming they are "developing their sound" and "achieving some sort of mystical/spiritual/meditative higher level of self actualization." blah blah blah. These people are the most deluded of all. These are also the same sort of people who waste days, months, years with mouthpieces, reeds etc. I used to be one of these people. Just like long tones, equipment is just another distraction taking you away from making music. Beginners DO need to develop their embouchure, but they don't need long tones to do it. The few things I have figured out in this life is that long tones are not necessary, and also how to not waste time fiddling with equipment. The horn is on the stand, the mouthpiece works great, the reed takes a minute to get wet. If I need a new reed, it takes an additional 1-2 minutes to sand one/clip one down to where I like it.
Gen. Generalizer is generalizing quite a bit. Just because it doesn't 'do it' for you, doesn't mean it isn't legit, and lumping gear-heads in with long-toners is a stretch. Sure, there is likely overlap, but ... yeah. Hopefully someone with more time and intelligence than I have will come along and address this.
 

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No, I don't think that long tones are overrated. "Play long tones" is the "eat less, exercise more" of the practice room. Playing them is deceptively simple, (and they, along with overtones, are about the best thing that you can add to your practice routine to improve your sound), but this advice is boring and difficult to get players to accept.

As others have said, you don't need to spend a ridiculous amount of time on them (5-10 minutes should be fine), but you do need to be consistent. These days, I typically practice long tones (and overtones) with a tuner or app that can pitch-match and play the nearest in-tune pitch back at me, so that I can use my long tones to work on my ear and on maintaining pitch across volume changes.
 

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Anyone you've ever heard with a great sound practices long tones every day. All the great players/teachers I've worked with tell you to do them. Pat Labarbara, Liebman, Donny McCaslin, Mike Murley, Tim Ries, etc. That's the golden exercise for having great tone. I did an experiment about 2 years ago where for 6 weeks I used the time I would normally spend on long tones (30-40 mins/day) and practiced other things longer instead. This was in a period of doing about 6 hours/day total. After 6 weeks my tone and pitch had totally degraded. Very little centre to the sound, way less control. A week back on my normal routine and it started to come back. Don't listen to anyone who says they don't practice long tones. They don't know what they're doing.
 

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Yes I really really hate long tones. Way too boring for me. Its like giving oneself a lobotomy every day. 30-40 minutes of long tones every day? My brain would degrade into a stinky gelatinous mess. I would go insane. But enjoy your daily lobotomy. I'll be busy working on MUSIC! :mrgreen::bom::rr:

Anyone you've ever heard with a great sound practices long tones every day. All the great players/teachers I've worked with tell you to do them. Pat Labarbara, Liebman, Donny McCaslin, Mike Murley, Tim Ries, etc. That's the golden exercise for having great tone. I did an experiment about 2 years ago where for 6 weeks I used the time I would normally spend on long tones (30-40 mins/day) and practiced other things longer instead. This was in a period of doing about 6 hours/day total. After 6 weeks my tone and pitch had totally degraded. Very little centre to the sound, way less control. A week back on my normal routine and it started to come back. Don't listen to anyone who says they don't practice long tones. They don't know what they're doing.
 

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I wouldn't say it's necessary to do them for 30-40 minutes a day, but that doesn't mean they are useless.

Learning how to do overtones are necessary and valuable for beginners.

Once a student figures out how to voice notes and make overtones, its done. This is not something to spend more time working on.
Overtones aren't the same thing as long tones, but assuming you are including long tones in the statement above, I would argue that while they can be beneficial for beginners, they are even more beneficial for experienced players. That may seem anti-intuitive (after all an experienced player has a fully developed sound, right??!), but on the one hand long tones help keep your chops up, and on the other, more importantly, an experienced player hopefully has developed a concept of how they want to sound and therefore can concentrate on achieving that sound while doing a long tone. Also, they should have the ability to shape and alter the tone, experimenting with it, stabilizing it, etc, to the point it becomes ingrained and largely subconscious. Ironically, to reach that point, you have to be totally focused and attentive to the sound quality, which is why it is helpful to concentrate on one note at a time.

All of this can result in an improvement of sound quality, as well as increased endurance and solid breath support. If you are really focused on the quality of the tone, it doesn't have to be boring. I don't think you have to spend hours on them. A few minutes at a time is probably enough. I need to do them more; in fact this has inspired me to go do some long tones when I pick up the horn TODAY.

So it's not just for beginners. Long tones are probably more important and more useful as you develop as a player.
 
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