Long Tones in the Warm-Up

A few years ago I attended a master class presented by a well known brass soloist, and eventually someone brought up the topic of warming up.  The clinician asked the audience, “How many of you begin your warm-up with long tones?” Dutifully, most of us raised our hands – more or less assuming that this was a rhetorical question.  To our surprise his response was something like “actually I don’t recommend using long tones to warm up.”  Well, our faces must have shown what we were thinking, because he then gave the following explanation for why long tones might not be the best thing to do first thing in a warm-up.  He first noted that there are lots of parallels between music and sports, and then asked what professional athletes do to warm up. “Do they do this?”, he asked, and struck a pose like the image at the beginning of this post – a runner suspended in mid stride.  He then started jogging, and said, “no, they do this to warm up.”  The point I believe he was making is that he prefers a more dynamic way to start his playing day – not dynamic in the sense of volume – but dynamic in the sense of moving notes (dynamic) rather than held notes (static).

At the time I filed this bit of information away under the heading “hmm, that’s interesting.”  For that player it obviously worked fabulously, so there is definitely something to be said for using scales or other kinds of patterns in place of the traditional long tones in the warm-up.  However, after some more consideration, and looking at several (20+) warm-ups and daily routines for horn, I can also see the other side of the coin.  I too think there are many apt comparisons between music – particularly brass playing – and sports, and so I started thinking about how athletes warm up.  Yes, they often do some dynamic movements, such as jogging, jumping, or other types of calisthenics, but they also do this (see image at left).  To me, this type of stretching in place seems analogous to the use of long tones in a warm up.  One other thing to note about long tones is that they may seem static because the pitch stays the same for long periods, but in order to play them correctly the air has to stay in motion, not to mention any subtle movements going on at the aperture and inside the mouth.  If played incorrectly (too high/too loud), long tones at the beginning of the day could cause stiffness and/or lack of endurance later – perhaps this is what the clinician was getting at in his presentation.  However, I do think they can serve as a useful warm-up or re-warm-up if they are played in a comfortable range and at a medium dynamic.  It’s probably best to save the envelope-pushing long tones for later in the day. In looking at some of the standard (and not so standard) warm-ups for horn, I noticed that about 70% of them began with some type of long tone exercise, while nearly 100% included them somewhere in the routine.  Long tones are here to stay, but there is plenty of room for variation on when and how we practice them.  In the warm-up it’s especially important to find a pattern or set of patterns that works for you, regardless of what I or anyone else says. Whether you start the day with long tones, chromatic scales, or another kind of pattern, I encourage you to try something else every once in a while, just to see what happens.  Who knows, you might just discover a more efficient way to warm up.

Rethinking the Re-Warmup

I posted a while back on tweaking the daily routine, but neglected to mention that experimenting and modifying your re-warmup patterns can also be a very useful exercise.  Here’s a case in point.  I usually begin my practice day with a fairly involved routine, Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player, which usually takes about an hour or so.  This is followed by several minutes of rest – 20 to 30 min. – then another hour or so of practice. At this point my mind and face need a substantial break, so I like to rest for a least a couple of hours or more before doing any further practicing that day.  After this extended break I need at least a 5-10 minute re-warmup to get things going again.  In the past I’ve approached this re-warmup session a little haphazardly, and looking back I realize now that I probably wasn’t doing the right kinds of things to wake up my embouchure, namely too much upper register, loud playing right away.  Consequently, while I could make it through the third hour or more of playing, I wasn’t always in the best shape by the end.  I’ve found lately that by taking a little extra care in the re-warmup session – some middle register long tones and gentle air flow/flexibility studies – I’m in much better shape for the entire third hour of practice, right up to the end, and my chops feel much better the next day. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  I suppose I just expected to be warmed up already for that final practice session, and didn’t want to take the time to warm up again properly.  Take it from me, it makes a difference!

Warm-Ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part I – Ifor James

One of my summer projects has been an article for The Horn Call on daily routines.  I’ve finished the article and submitted it, and it should be appearing in the May, 2011  issue.  I thought in the interval I would give blog readers a small preview of some of the materials from the article.  Basically I looked in detail at over 20 different daily routines for the horn, and provided a description and brief analysis of each one’s strengths and weaknesses.  The goal of this project is to help players, especially younger ones, be more aware of the variety of routines out there, and to assist them in making informed decisions when choosing these materials.  Many of the routines were quite familiar to me, and will be to most players, but some of them I had not encountered before working on the article.  One of the lesser known routines (at least to me) was put together by British horn legend Ifor James.  Simply titled Warming Up, his routine was published in 1999 by Editions Marc Reift.  Marc Reift’s website also includes a nice PDF preview.

This routine combines practical advice with inventive exercises, and is definitely worth considering.  In the introduction Professor James offers the following suggestions.

To do these [sic] warm-up every day means that you are doing all basics under incredibly differing conditions and you are learning not only about brass playing but also about yourself.  Try this warm-up exactly as it stands for about two months.  Then please feel free to change whatever you like, but do not leave any of the techniques out. p. 3

The routine begins with a pre warm-up, consisting of relaxed harmonic series patterns on the B-flat horn – something rarely seen in the United States.  Long tones, lip trills, repeated attacks, single tonguing, scales/arpeggios, multiple tonguing, slurs, and tongued octaves then follow.  Detailed explanations precede each exercise, as well as indications to rest.  A shorter warm-up and three variations on the original routine are also included, which allow the materials to be adapted depending on playing demands and time constraints.

If you aren’t familiar with this routine, check it out – even if you don’t end up using the whole thing you’ll probably find something you can incorporate into your existing routine.

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