100 Days of Practice, Day 3: An Ode to Long Tones

My friend SG sent me this note:

"Flute playing uses up ZERO weight watchers exchange points, did you know that? Says so on the cardboard Calorie Wheel of Fate...You can play AND eat carbs. Isn’t that cool?"

Playing and eating carbs... I don't think potato chip crumbs are good for the inside of the flute, but I will admit that liquid carbs haven't sufficiently damaged my flute yet. Not so sure about my flute PLAYING, but the instrument itself: fine.

What flute playing can do for your bod, I maintain, is prevent the need for situps, ever ever ever.

I start each practice session with about ten minutes of long tones. Actually, I'm not sure how long it takes, but I just play every note on the flute, according to a pattern that came from sax player Geoff Vidal, via my friend Glen. Here's whatcha do:

Start at middle G on flute, select a tempo. 60 bpm for me. (I don't use a metromone but if you need something to help you find a steady beat, I'd recommend it.)

Breathe in through your nose for two counts. Deeply. Fill your belly.

Play the G as "ha... ta....ta...". "Ha" for four counts, first "ta" for two counts, then hold the last "ta" for four counts, or until you run out of breath.

Keep mouth in place, exactly, and breathe out through nose for two counts.

Big inhale thru nose for two counts. Fill your belly, not your shoulders. A good breath goes deep and expands your diaphragm.

Repeat for G#... then for A. Then A#, and keep going up the instrument til you hit C, then go back down to G.

Lips and mouth will start to tweak, and that is good. The more days you do it, the better.

Adjustments: If you are on a whistle, you don't have the in between notes (sharps and flats) so consider going from low D to high D and back down. If you're ambitious (I am) then do the whole dang instrument. I start at low D and go up two octaves chromatically to high D. Lips and mouth kill by the end, but it is good pain.

Remember, breathing in:
-To your lower belly. Shallow breaths are the kind that lift the shoulders. Deep breaths fill the tummy.

Breathing out:
-Compress your abdomen as you go. At the very end of the note, compressing your abdominal muscles down to nada will squeeze out more breath than you thought you had left. Seriously, for those who are looking for the six-pack abs: Do these daily and do them right, and you'll never have do a sit up again.

What long tones do:
-Build abdominal strength and control.
-Build embouchure strength and control.
-Focus your mind.
-Help you achieve nirvana. Hm.
-Drives away unwanted family and neighbors. (Any family or neighbors who actually enjoy hearing long tones have probably already achieved nirvana, and thus should be welcome to join you in the practice room.)

What to focus on:
-Steadiness of tone. Do you have one long beautiful tone, or is it warbly? It's bound to get warbly at the end, especially when your tummy muscles are shaking. That's alright.
-Quality of sound: Does the note stay strong all the way to the end? Does it crack?
-How do your facial muscles feel? Bet they hurt. But, this is good because it actually raises your awareness of them. The harder they work, the more you FEEL them, and understand what muscles go into making a good sound. That can help give you a mental picture of what they need to look/feel like and this can really help you develop a muscle memory for a certain embouchure position that works best for the sound you're trying to achieve.

If you are doing long tones right, you'll feel it in your tummy. As in, rock solid. I just did my long tones and I am telling you, it is so good for you.

That's my first step, every day. My second step is technique, and I'll write about that tomorrow. Gotta run back downstairs and finish my practice session!!!


Peig said…
ok so last night was crash and burn thank heavens i got the am session in. Forgot I had day off today, so thursday night quickly became friday night and the beer /pizza fairy appeared. got nothing done.

day 3

this am got my half hour. Hubby home . bit intimedating playing while he is home being Mr Big Band. I am sure he is hearing every worng note and stumble. Have to work on that.

i do try to do the octave thing but never tried the breating thing or long tones. does that work on whistle as well?
new tune comming along. overall , quite pleased. will try for longer sessions over the weekend. seem to be more structured during the week.
Peig said…
day 4

happy 4th!!!

so this am fighting a bug or food issues from lunch out. anyway did long tones and all tunes.

not sure doing correct but did run through exrcise and all tunes.

thanks for the practice tips. always helpful
Soul Mama said…
Weekends are tough. The beer fairy visited my house this holiday weekend as well... but I have new insight... see Day 5. :)