Sax on the Web Forum banner

Is it necessary to practice long notes on the saxophone?

4728 Views 91 Replies 55 Participants Last post by  -j.
Hi everyone I have a question about practicing long tones on saxophone. Some musicians say that after a certain point, it's not necessary to practice long tones anymore since they're only for beginners, while others believe the opposite. I really admire the great sound of musicians like Euge Groove, and I was wondering what your opinion is on this. Do you still practice long tones in your current practice routine, or do you feel like it's something you don't need anymore? I would really appreciate your input and any additional information you can provide on this matter.🙏
  • Like
Reactions: 1
1 - 6 of 92 Posts
Dr. G is correct. Greg Fishman, my phenomenal saxophone instructor who is an amazing player, works on ballads for his long tones so he kills two birds with one stone.
Yes I was gonna say— Dr. G mentioned using actual music (ballads etc) as if it were long tones a while back and it stuck with me. Not because I ever hated doing normal long tones, but the list of things I want to work on is a mile long and 30 minutes on long tones is time I might better use elsewhere. (I already warm up with work on overtones every day.) Hopefully just focusing on my tone while playing slower music with long phrases and trying to tone-match my favorite players while playing along to transcriptions is enough.
  • Like
Reactions: 3
Soul Eyes is a go-to for me.
Anything can be played slooowly. Donna Lee etc
There's nothing WRONG with using ballads for tone practice, but there are two ways in which it's not as good as specific tone practice.

1) Very few ballads cover every single note in the entire key range of the horn from low Bb to as high as you can play altissimo. No ballads involve the complete range of dynamics from pppp to ffff unless of course you specifically do something about this. Every note, and every dynamic level, is a little different in its response.

2) No matter how you play with the time, you'll still be constrained by the song's form to moving from one note to the next to keep the song going. So if you need to go back to that low F#, you probably won't.

My particular tone practice consists of playing each note on the saxophone from low Bb to the highest altissimo I have, starting at pppp, crescending to fffff, then back down to pppp. If the note drops out when very soft, or breaks up when very loud, I go back and try it again. On the lower notes of baritone, I'll need to take each note in a couple of breaths. One of the objectives is to increase dynamic range. If you are regularly practicing going from too soft to too loud and back again, while trying to maintain a constant tone quality and a constant pitch, over time the soft and loud dynamic levels at which you can play with a pleasing tone in tune will get softer and louder. The wider the range of "just barely in control", the wider the range of "in pretty good control" will be, and the wider the range of "command of the instrument with complete control of expressive qualities" will be. (This applies to range as well; someone who's spent several hundred hours concentrating on starting low Bb at pppp level, or playing high F in the palm keys at ffff without having the reed close up, willl have a far better control of these extremes of tessitura.)

And the last point: I recommend that tone exercises be done, whenever possible, outdoors in a location far away from reflective surfaces. This helps build a big husky tone with vibrancy. Avoid practice room tone.
Can someone give me a ballpark guess here so I don’t have to compute it? Well here I’ll try— 30 notes on the horn times what? 30 seconds per note so 15 minutes just holding the notes. You work on this 15 minutes every time you practice? (Probably more if you’re doing the dynamics or other exercises on the notes?) The question isn’t whether this is a beneficial thing to do— obviously it is. The question is opportunity cost: that was a transcription you might have learned, or a new tune you could’ve gotten down.
I'd also point out that if you know 1000 tunes but play with a pinched dull tone and bad intonation, no one will want to listen to you; but you can play the simplest stuff with a big rich compelling expressive tone and everyone will want to listen to you.
No doubt that’s true, just questioning the way it’s being presented as an either-or situation. While transcribing, playing along with looped phrases of Paul Desmond, say, trying to match the minutiae of his inflections, vibrato, phrasing, voicing, recording myself, am I not “working on tone”? Is it possible I would accomplish a satisfactory version of the Desmond solo yet because I didn’t specifically trade in some of that time for working on only one note at a time, my tone will surely be pinched? Aren’t I “working on breath stamina” whether holding one note for 12 beats or playing a 12-beat long (mostly) legato phrase on one breath?

I’m a longtime voice teacher and there are certainly many analogous exercises only working on tone or breath-control with voice. But you know who else also typically has great tone and breath-control? Plenty of singers who just sing a lot of repertoire and work to realize its full expression. You can build huge calves doing reps on the machine at the gym but also bike messengers have them without stepping foot in the gym.

To clarify, I have nothing against long tones, I play them sometimes and actually enjoy them. I started sax a year and half ago doing them for like 30 minutes every day and after several months I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I could be better applying that time to something else. It’s just based on my experience coming from other music instruction that anytime you’re doing something that’s “not playing music” and doing it repetitively every day etc, to build muscles, whatever— let’s just say I really question that. “Musical Calisthenics”, “Bootcamp” this kind of attitude. “No Pain No Gain”.

On piano we have the Hanon and Czerny exercises that so many pianists sacrifice untold hours of their time to playing, to gain the skill to move fingers faster with what I’d argue is close to zilch artistic benefit. Like: just play Bach and you’ll get up to speed eventually but with heavenly melody inspiring you every minute along the way.
See less See more
Here's Wallay's take....
Which is interesting because last year when I was using his channel to get started with sax he seemed to advocate using overtone matching instead of long tones.

Listen to the tonal quality of Tony Bennett or Patsy Cline, then compare to that of Bob Dylan or Billie Eilish. Can you tell who's spent time developing proper voice support in the bel canto tradition, and who hasn't?
Oh I gotta contemplate whether I want to listen to Tony Bennett vs Bob Dylan? Cause that one’s easy— not sure you’re making the point you want to be making here.

Also, speaking as a voice instructor— Billie Eilish is a plenty skilled singer (she ain’t in the Bob D category). You can’t actually do what she does without proper breath support. There are more approaches to singing than Bel Canto. And the technique of singing in popular music has moved away from “filling the opera house” levels of volume ever since the advent of the microphone. You could fill a book with the numbers of singers who couldn’t sing opera but nevertheless have millions of fans delighting in their every recorded vocalization. Ella Marvin Lennon McCartney Bowie Curtis Olivia Newton-John Karen Carpenter etc etc

Edit: Also had to look up Patsy cause I never heard anything about her studying Bel Canto and all I could find about her musical education was that she sang in church and was self-taught on piano.
See less See more
1 - 6 of 92 Posts