Saxophone long tones: tips for better sound

Again and again, I find that many saxophonists underestimate or even misunderstand the Long tone exercises. In my opinion, they are the best exercise for developing a good sound and intonation.
I have the feeling that many see the Long tone exercises as an unpleasant “must”, as a kind of strength training but playing saxophone is not bodybuilding, It is about developing a feeling for the tone. One should develop fun in the exercises. If you are happy with the wonderful sound you produce, then you do it right.
Playing the long tones should always be relaxed. If it is exhausting you are either doing something wrong or your setup is uncomfortable.

Exercising long tones means playing a note and holding it at steady volume and pitch until you exhaust all air from your lungs.

What to focus on while practicing?

While practicing I always advise students to concentrate on one of the following aspects:

1. Support

Air control plays a decisive role. As you know, the air should come from the abdomen and the pressure should come constantly from the abdominal wall. If this is not optimal, I advise separate breathing exercises.
Always breathe deeply into the belly.

2. Throat

You should open it as much as possible for the production of better sound.

3. Tongue

Even your tongue position plays a role. Through the tongue adjustment, you control the airflow in the mouth. For a flat tongue (as with the vowel “oohh”) more air passes through. This can help, for example, for playing the deep notes. In the case of high tones (especially the Altissimo, but also in the overtone exercises) one can easily channel the air and thus flow more quickly and more precisely.

4. Lips

Lips and lip tension: imagine as if you wanted to say “ooo” (tongue remains flat), that is exactly how the lip should be shaped. Also, they should remain as loose as possible.
However, there is no one absolutely correct way, it all depends on what you want, a classic or modern approach or something in between. It is best to ask your teacher for more details on this topic.

5. Volume

Imagine as if you wanted to fill the room with your sound, let your sax sound as great and beautiful as possible. This is not necessarily meant loudly.

6. Air volume

For a great sound, you also have to use a lot of air. By this, I do not necessarily mean that you build a huge pressure or let the air flow quickly, air should be consumed more moderately.
I’m planning to write a separate article on breathing exercises, where I will explain in details how to build up your air volume.


The classic long tone exercise

Blow a tone in the pp, increase it to ff, and then lower it back to pp again. The sound should be approximately 2 (slow tempo) whole notes and at the end of the sound, all air from your lungs should be exhausted. The sound should be triggered in a controlled manner, the intonation must not change at all, and of course, the sound should also be stopped in a controlled way, meaning no vibrato or other trembling. This exercise should be performed over the whole spectrum.

Power long tone

This is a slightly different concept than the classic Long tone.
You begin with a deep tone, play the fifth, then the fourth, then the fifth, etc. as high as you can, and then back to deep.
Example: c ‘g’ c “g” c “g” c “” g “” c “” g “c” g ‘c’
The sounds should be minimal half note long.

Tone matching (or the infamous overtone exercises)

It’s all about control and feeling for proper airflow and pharynx, tongue, and lip position.
You grab a deep tone, blast it (no biting or squeezing), then you play alternately the same tone with the normal grip. You try to make the normal handle sound like the blown one, both sound volume and pitch.
Example: You reach a deep B and let a b” sound. Now you grab the normal b” and try to make it sound as beautiful and full.
This exercise may take some time to master it. Pressing (biting) should be avoided in any case.

Register exercise

Start with a note in the middle and move only chromatically (up or down) with the following rhythm.
Half, half, whole.
Move around the whole range of the Sax. The point is to make sure that the sound color remains the same.
Fis, g, gis,
G, gis, a,
Gis, a, ais, etc.