Saxophone sound practice #1: Long tones

This article is the first exercise of the series Practice Your Own Sound. Sylvie shows you three exercises for working on your saxophone sound. The best is to practice them in that order: first, long tones, then the overtones, and finally the work on 5ths and 8ves. So, Let's go!

Long tones: Why?

Because it feels good, relax, and bring into the zone!

The long tones are one of the most important exercises in the practice of the saxophone. You will gain a good embouchure, a close relation with your instrument and a better knowledge of your body.

They are also a sonic meditation, a dive into the sound and a way to become centered and focused for a good practice session.

Long tones: How?

So, for a good long tones session, you need:

  • a tuner

  • good comfortable flat shoes (or socks)

  • to push yourself if you are not used to do it

  • a quiet and distraction less space (avoid TV in the back of the room or kids)

  • not to be afraid of playing just one note, for a long time, even (and especially) if it is ugly


You're having some peace and quiet in your practice space, you put your saxophone together with love and care, you turn on your tuner. You stand on your foot, your knees are relaxed, your pelvis flexible, your back is straight but not rigid. Breathe deeply and blow a note from the medium register, between C# and A ... blow the note you hear and feel (it is important to ear and feel while doing long tones).

The attack is done without the tongue et sould be clear and precise, straight. The sound goes "hhaaaaa" and not "pwwaaaa". Repeat the attack until it is clean.

So now you are blowing, the note is beautiful, the note is ugly, it doesn't matter, let go your thoughts and focus on your body. Blow as long as you can, without being judgmental. Relax, loose the jaw. Open the throat, relax the larynx, push up the diaphragm, tight the butt, blow the longer you can. Finish the note on a decrescendo.

Become the sound

Become the sound, become one with it, follow it and melt into it. Play the same note several times, trying to be in tune, with a stable frequency, and smile. Smiling is essential for being in tune and developing the right facial muscles.

Play the same note forte, piano, pianissimo. Pianissimo long tones are the best. They will kill you but they are such a good exercise! Smile, loose the jaw, blow from the bottom, push the air.

You just spent 15 minutes on one note, congrats! Either you stop here and practice your scales at 40bpm, either you keep doing long tones, in the low register then in the high one.

Do a lot of low Bb, B and C long tones.

Remember, always, to smile, especially in the high register. Your muscles around the mouth should hurt a little if you practice correctly, a bit like sore muscles. You will build strength and endurance day after day. Do long tones everyday, 10/15 minutes at least.

Hoping this will help on your sonic journey, I wish you a happy dive into the Sound!

Don't miss the other exercises of the series:

And after working on your sound, you can practice your scales!

Long tones demo on video:


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