Two of the most important and influential teachers of my life discouraged me from doing long tones. They had been a staple of my playing from when I first started playing back in third grade until my sophomore year in college, the first time someone told me to stop. Both teachers in question felt that my sound and fundamentals were solid enough that I can just start off with either 12ths or dive right into the Klose scale patterns.
When I started playing again, I felt compelled to start with long tones again. My embouchure needed to get their sea legs again. I also needed to remove all other factors while I focused on getting back my sound. I also decided to approach long tones differently:
- Instead of trying to make my sound as consistent as possible from note to note, I focused on finding the center of each note. This was influenced by my friend and historical clarinetist extraordinaire, Marie Ross, who really advocates for the clarinet to let its acoustical freak flag out and let each note sound different based on the acoustical idiosyncrasies of each fingering.
- At first, I didn’t even focus on intonation.
- Most importantly, I play mindfully. Meaning, I am very conscious of every action, intention and the results of both.
I try to get to the center of each note as quickly as possible. Beyond how good or bad I sound, what is the quality of the overtones I’m getting. How is my instrument resonating and how does that feel in my fingers, mouth, lips, tongue. Am I relaxed or asked in a different way, is my mind or body doing anything to impede the most perfect sound that I can get.
Thanks to this Eddie Daniels video, I even found that long tones can help with technique too:
Now, in addition to the above areas of focus, I also make sure that my fingers are sitting in the most optimal place over the tone holes while exerting the least amount of pressure possible without letting air escape from keys or tone hole. I also experimented with these various factors until I got everything to the point where everything is rote. Not completely there yet.
I’m really enjoying this new approach to long tones. It’s like a grey area between meditation and chanting a mantra such as “om”. Definitely paying dividends right now.