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Clarinet instrument long tones are a very important part of a clarinetist's practice routine. After learning about the importance of long tones and then incorporating it into my daily practice routine, I could hear immense progress in my clarinet playing.
Long tones are exactly what they sound like. They are long, sustained notes. Long tones can be played on any note and at any dynamic level.
Long tone exercises target air support, breathing, embouchure, oral cavity, intonation, and color of sound. When practicing repertoire, it's easy to shift our focus away from those target areas. Instead, we're focusing on our technique and playing correct notes and rhythms. However, by practicing long tones daily and constantly improving those target areas, producing a quality sound on the clarinet will become second nature.
The clarinetist is able to focus on the color of their sound during long tone exercises. My clarinet professor in college had me hold long tones when trying to achieve a certain color within my sound. While doing so, he would change the mood of each long tone: angry, scared, happy, joyful. This was a great exercise because when I came across changes of mood in my lesson and ensemble music, I was able to hear the sound I wanted to achieve and quickly execute it.
The clarinetist is also able to focus on intonation. When focusing on intonation during long tones, it is important to have a tuner on the stand. Long tones will show the clarinetist each tendency on their bb Clarinet. For example, throat tone A tends to be flat and thumb high C tends to be sharp. When practicing long tones, the clarinetist should watch their tendency with each note and then proceed to adjust their breath support, embouchure or oral cavity until the pitch is in tune. Practicing long tones and fixing intonation will help the clarinetist hear whether or not they are in tune.
Lastly, long tones allow the mind, body and muscles to warm up. It is similar to going to the gym or sports practice. Just like running a few laps or doing a quick workout to warm up the body and prepare the mind for the physical demands of the workout, long tones prepare the mind and body for rehearsal/practice. Long tones warm up the lungs, oral cavity muscles, and the embouchure muscles. Warming up these muscles will help prevent future injuries and muscle strain.
I didn't incorporate long tone exercises into my daily practice routine until my freshman year of college.I knew long tones were important, but I always found them boring and "useless". I began incorporating long tone exercises into my practice routine because I realized that my sound had a lot of improvement and potential. By listening to other clarinetists play during studio and listening to the clarinetists in the top ensemble, I began to strive for the sound they were producing. Their sound was very centered, controlled, and pure. As I advanced into the top ensemble, I learned the importance of blending my sound into the sound of the ensemble. Long tones helped me blend my sound better. The listening skills used in my long tone exercises were also used in rehearsal. As I was playing, I would not be listening to myself, but rather the clarinetists next to me or the ensemble as a whole. Practicing long tones aso helped me in ensemble playing because I was able to adjust the intonation and color of my sound immediately. I did so by adjusting my embouchure and oral cavity. Long tone exercises strengthen the oral cavity and embouchure muscles. These muscles are very important when it comes to producing a good quality sound.
There are many fun and unique ways to practice long tones. Below are different ways I have practiced long tones that have been beneficial to my clarinet playing.
One note: First, I pick a random note on the clarinet. Next, I pick a slow tempo. I usually begin with quarter note equals 60. Once I have chosen a tempo, I play the note for ten beats. Once I have done those ten beats, I increase the amount of beats by five. This exercise allows me to focus on my breath control and air support.
Scales: First, I pick about two to three scales, both major and minor. Next, I pick a slow tempo. I start at quarter note equals 60. Then, I play each note of the scale as whole notes, so four beats per note. This exercise helps me with smooth transitions between notes, especially over the break and in the register. It also helps me hear each note's function within the scale. Each note of the scale either pushes or pulls, so practicing the scale at a slow tempo will help the clarinetist hear the function of each note.
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