I wonder if some things I do are a waste of time....
The majority of my students are middle schoolers and I assign them daily rounds of long tones. I do this with the hope that they MIGHT work on them a LITTLE a few times per week. Face it, I'm asking 12 year olds to sit in front of a tuner and slowly play notes through a variety of dynamic ranges. This is mostly an exercise in futility.
"Well, genius, you are the one who continues to assign them."
I know I do and there is a purpose. I know full well they won't do them consistently and that isn't really the point. The reason I continue to assign long tones because I want them to hear from the onset the concepts of good instrumental pedagogy. I want them to hear repeatedly about how and WHY these things are important and how to best implement them; which leads me to the point of this blog:
Many folks do long tones totally wrong!
I say that with this caveat- In my opinion, any time with your horn to your face which doesn't reinforce bad technique is time well spent. Therefore, even long tones done half way can be a positive thing. There is the operative term, however......HALF WAY.
Going through the motions...
I'm guilty of this too....long tones or scales while on auto pilot. You're doing them but your mind's other places. While this isn't necessarily horrible and from a 'mental unloading' standpoint can be psychologically healthy it isn't the best way to practice. The trumpet professor at Delta State University, Dr. Michael Ellzey, likes to say 'Tuning is not a perfunctory act.'. The same holds true for practicing. You must be an active participant in your practice sessions. I know that sounds ridiculous but I simply mean that you cannot 'check out' and hope to really progress like you should.
Long tones involve far more concentration than you might think if you expect results from them. I'm not so much referring to concentrating on breath support or anything like that. Yes, you should be working on improving breath support but you should also be working on making that part of long tones pretty well automatic. The concentration should be focused on intonation and 'tone imagination'; that is, hearing your ideal sound in your mind and trying to produce that in long tones. This is one area of pedagogy where people usually fall far short. Doing long tones with a little nasal thin sound without picturing a big full robust sound is an exercise in futility. All you do is learn how to play a wimpy sound...longer...
And then there's tuning. You're only doing it half right....
Standard operating procedure for long tones with a tuner- turn on the tuner, play, try to make the arrow point due north. There is a lot of value in this and I do it as well. However, there is no needle to point north when you are playing with others. Watching the needle while doing long tones does allow you to figure out the intonation tendencies of your instrument. Where it falls short, is in training the ear. To learn how to play in tune, you MUST hear your pitch vs other pitches.
Have you ever noticed the drone feature on your tuner?
Yeah so it's there for a reason. It allows you to tune just using your ears. That's sort of important, don't you think? Sure, you can (and should) begin by matching the drone pitch for pitch and possibly move on to tuning fifths. The next step, though, is to stretch the ear a bit. Try this:
We'll use a concert Bb scale for an example. Set the tuner to drone on a Bb and then slowly play through the scale; tuning each pitch to the Bb. Tuning the concert Bb, easy. Tuning the concert F to the Bb, easy. Tuning the minor second, the 4th, the 6th, the 7th? That is going to make your ears work.
From there, set a drone to a random pitch. Then, play a chromatic scale through the full range of the instrument. Consider your ears officially stretched!
Agree? Disagree? Think I need to up my meds? Please comment and let me know!!!