Improve Your Playing With Trumpet Long Tones
While some may consider long tones one of the more boring exercises in our arsenal of trumpet warmups, trumpet long tones can pay tremendous dividends when it comes to your improvement in tone quality and range.
Let's take a look at a few of the advantages of long tones, and then we'll jump into some of the common long tone exercises.
- Long tones allow you to remove all of the other distractions and focus purely on tone quality.
- Long tones help develop the strength of your embouchure.
- Long tones improve your breathing and stability of sound.
- Long tones can help you ease back into your routine after taking a break from playing.
Long Tone Exercises
Try out some of these long tone exercises. Trumpet players all have slight variations in terms of their personal preferences for exercises. For example, I have never been a fan of holding a single pitch for as long as humanly possible as I don't believe the benefits are that tangible.
I'll share some popular long tone exercises, and over time I'm sure you'll have your own opinions of them as well.
Descending Chromatic Pyramids
Starting on a G in the staff, play a whole note G, descend a half step to F#, and raise back to G. Then go from G down a whole step to F, and back to G. Keep continuing until you go from G down to C and back to G.
I also like to do this exercise starting on low C and descending down to F# (123) the lowest note on the trumpet (not counting pedal tones).
This exercise is especially useful in listening for intonation as you start and end on the same pitch, so it helps develop your ability to hear whether pitches are sharp or flat in relation to your tonal center.
For beginner players, this is a great opportunity to teach more about the third valve slide on the D and C# as these notes tend to be sharp on every trumpet. Using the third valve slide elongates the tube and helps lower the pitch.
Practicing Long Tones With A Backing Track
The one caveat is that I would recommend you use a metronome and nothing else. I see more and more warm-up videos on YouTube that have funky backing tracks to make the practice less monotonous.
Now, having started my career as a middle school band teacher, I'd use any trick in the book just to get kids to practice, and sometimes that involves fun band-in-a-box or SmartMusic arrangements. So no hard feelings if you decide to do your warmups with accompaniment.
However, for those of you that are serious about upping your trumpet game, long tones provide the ultimate opportunity to focus on tone quality and intonation.
And both of those musical qualities rely on careful listening and an active mind in order to be able to make gradual improvements.
If I keep playing a lot of long notes and I am listening to groovy rock patterns to "keep it interesting," there's no way that I am giving my warm up the true mental dedication that it needs.
Carmine Caruso's Six Notes
Another popular long tone exercise comes from the famous trumpet teacher, not to be confused with the operatic tenor of the same name, Carmine Caruso.
Caruso's "Six Notes" refer to the six chromatic pitches from G to C in the treble clef.
Caruso also has a set of rules to get the most out of this exercise:
- Tap your foot. Caruso believed that timing was essential and that synchronizing your muscles was paramount for performance.
- The mouthpiece should remain on your lips for the duration of the exercise. To accomplish this, he had students breathe only through their nose as opposed to their mouth. This would ensure that the embouchure would stay in one place. Additionally, the mouthpiece should stay in place even during the beats of rest. One can remove the pressure and allow the lips to rest, but the mouthpiece should remain in place.
- In each series of three notes per pitch, the first note is articulated with a breath attack, while the latter two are tongued.
- In between each pitch are four beats of rest. Expend the remaining air on the first two beats, and breathe in on beats three and four in anticipation of the next set of pitches.
Caruso offers additional exercises and insights in the book, Musical Calisthenics for Brass.
Calisthenics, as the name implies, are focused on building the muscles in order to play music. The exercises themselves are not intended to be musical.
Unlike other long tone exercises, these are really not focused on tone quality, articulation, and intonation.
Think of these as the equivalent to an athlete working out in the weight room. The effort put in during these exercises will have downstream effects on your musicality by strengthening your embouchure. But they themselves are not the end goal.
The rules and the exercises can be somewhat unique from other books, so it's definitely worth checking out especially for those looking to challenge their chops. It's not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth the reward.
Vincent Cichowicz's Long Tone Studies
For those of you wanting to get serious about your long tones game, I recommend checking out Vincent Cichowicz's Long Tone Studies.
Cichowicz was the long time trumpet professor at Northwestern University and was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Vincent's son Michael, who himself is a professional trumpet performer (Tower of Power, among others), compiled his father's studies, articles, and other memoirs here:
Tips To Get The Most Out Of Long Tones
- Focus on keeping consistent tone quality
- Take deep and relaxed breaths
- Don't use vibrato, keep the tone straight
- Use a metronome & tap your foot
- Switch between different long tone exercises during different practice sessions so you don't experience brain (or muscle) fatigue.