Student: “Do I have to play those long tones. They’re so boring!”

Teacher: “Yes! Long tones are good for you, just like vitamins and broccoli.” 

 Student: “Aargh – I hate broccoli!”

 Teacher: “But you’ll love long tones ;)!”


Last week, I shared my teaching process for beginning band students.

As a recap:

  • Students build a musical vocabulary by learning to sing simple songs by ear, echo tonal patterns and chant rhythm patterns.
  • While doing this, they learn how to assemble and care for their instrument.
  • Students make first sounds on mouthpieces, head-joints etc.  by performing articulation patterns.
  • They learn fingerings for 3-4 notes, and play the same articulation exercises on their instruments.
  • Students learn melodic patterns and phrases (by ear) from the songs they have learned to sing.
  • Students play a song by ear, with the teacher accompanying on piano or playing the bass line on the same instrument.

Some readers wondered when and how I incorporate the very popular technical exercises, like long tones, into my routine. Holding out a long tone is one of the HARDEST techniques (the beginning exercises in the Arban Trumpet Method attest to this!). A performer has to hear a great sound in his/her head, along with feeling steady big and small beats. I don’t start incorporating long tones (as we know and love them) until students can articulate connected and separated styles of articulation on their mouthpieces/head-joints. In fact, I treat articulating patterns as a type of long tone.

Idea #1: Echoing patterns with different styles of articulation is like playing a long tone.

If a student can articulate a pattern using small beats (microbeats) in duple (grouped in 2’s) and triple (grouped in 3’s) over 4 big beats (macrobeats) in one breath, they have essentially held out a note for 4 big beats. These patterns are familiar to the student (they have chanted them frequently beforehand), and help to further build their musical vocabulary. An added benefit is that it is much more interesting to play patterns for a beginner than to hold out a note. An even bigger benefit is when the students are able to improvise their own rhythm patterns! This creates even more interest as the student is actively engaged in creating and allows the student to further understand and feel the rhythms.

(Articulation is SO important on a wind instrument, and I feel that is an area that is neglected. I'll definitely touch upon this in a future blog…)

Idea #2: Teach new notes using patterns with different articulation styles.

Going off of the theme of making practicing more interesting, isn’t it more fun to play patterns than hold out long notes? For Beginning Brass players, it is a little easier to play patterns rather than long tones on higher notes. With a long tone, the student may miss the note initially, and resort to poor technique to do anything to get the note to come out. Or, he/she may give up altogether if the note cannot be played. With a pattern, the student is a little more engaged, and with each attempt, can increase or decrease the air speed and corner firmness as needed.

Bonus Idea: String a series of short patterns together into a larger pattern to play in one breath.  With this idea, students are playing longer and preparing their bodies and minds to play phrases. You can make a game out of this and see how many patterns each student can play in one breath (of course with good tone quality and breath support).

Don’t get me wrong, I do have students play the traditional long tones, but only after we have performed many patterns in duple and triple meters and with both styles of articulation.  Here’s how I do it….

Another Bonus Idea!: I have the students hold a note out and hear (or create) rhythm patterns in their head as they are holding out each note. For example, they may play a Concert Bb note while I play 2 sets of rhythm patterns in triple over 8 big beats. You can make a game out of it and have each student create a long pattern while the other students hold out a note.  You can have a competition between the student and teacher to see who can play the note or pattern longer.

And Yet Another Bonus Idea!: A few months later, I’ll tell the brass players to hear the patterns not only on the same pitch they are playing, but hear the patterns an octave higher or lower. (You can accomplish this by playing the patterns an octave higher or lower after they have had enough experience playing rhythm patterns on particular pitches, like the notes in a Concert Bb scale.) This is great ear training and also helps build the concept of getting a strong core to the sound.

Action Steps:

  1. What ideas do you have for teaching long tones? Let me know in the comments below.
  2. Did you like this article? Please Like and Share it on the social networks, and sign up for my weekly blogs at
  3. If you liked these ideas and have started to use them, let me know how it is working by writing a comment below.


Next time, I’ll talk about how students can practice my ideas at home….


If you’re curious about how I teach, you will be able to experience it yourself! Coming soon, Online Video Lessons for Beginning Trumpet and Saxophone Players….