Video transcript
Long notes for brass – fast track your improvement

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MICHAEL WRAY: Hello, my name is Michael Wray and I'm an instrumental tutor at The Arts Unit. Today I'm going to be talking about playing long notes on brass instruments. I play the French horn, but this applies to all brass instruments.

Playing long note may not sound like the most exciting thing to do in your practise. But if you do this just for a few minutes every practise, you will get better really quickly. And the better you get, the more exciting and more rewarding pieces you'll be able to play.

I actually find it really calming and a great way to focus my mind for the practise I'm about to do. So it's a really worthwhile exercise. And I encourage all of you to add it to your practise.

Let's begin the basic structure of this exercise is a four beat crescendo followed by a four beat decrescendo. So beat 1 of the second bar will be the loudest point of the crescendo.

I always use a metronome when I play my long notes. It's easy to download a metronome. You can download them for free on your phone or tablet. And I've set mine to 60 beats per minute. I'll usually breathe in for two beats, aiming to take a deep full open breath.

Then I'll start the notes softly but with free flowing air. Aim for an even crescendo, not getting so loud that you lose your good sound. And then follow this by an even decrescendo, being careful not to get too soft too soon.

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Now let's add some articulations to that. We'll start by tonguing the crotchet beats in time with the metronome. As you tongue the crotchet beats, aim to keep the shape of the crescendo and decrescendo under the same. We want to avoid bulging on each note. So we don't want this.

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You can hear the bulge in each one of those notes. What we're aiming for is the same smooth crescendo and decrescendo. So the airflow should be exactly the same as the long note and we're just tapping the air with the tongue.

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Let's move on to quavers, the same idea is the crochets, aiming to replicate the same airflow of the long note. Keep the tongue relaxed and pointed as it articulates each quaver note. I like to think of the two syllable as I'm tonguing.

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And now triplets. Be sure to subdivide this in your head before you start. It's harder than you think to keep in time with a metronome.

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And finally, the last part of the exercise is playing semiquavers.

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Just to recap a few of the thoughts. Remember to breathe in deeply. Start soft but with free flowing air. Use the same airflow as we did for the long notes, and just tap the air with a relaxed pointed tongue using the two syllable.

And as you get into the triplets and semiquavers, be careful not to get faster as you get louder and slower as you get softer. Always stay connected to the metronome beat.

As you can see, there's a lot to think about when you're just playing long notes. The trick is to focus on one aspect at a time. And when you're confident with that, move onto something else.

For me, I always focus on my breathing first. And then later I'll start thinking more about my tonguing and so on.

I'll now play through the whole exercise, and you can join me on your instrument. I'll start by playing the long note for eight beats and then resting for eight beats. And you can play in the gaps. Between us, we'll have one continuous long night. I'll start on Concert F.

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Good and now let's go up a semi-tone to Concert F sharp.

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Excellent and now down to Concert E.

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Well done. I'd recommend doing this on at least five different notes throughout your instrument's register. Be careful not to go too high, because we don't want to be practicing with tension or force. Keep it in a comfortable register so you can work more on even airflow without tension.

For the more advanced players, you can add sextuplets and even demisemiquavers. It's great practise to build up a fast single tongue.

It's also really beneficial to play the long notes with a drone pitch. Most tuners have a drone function. You could play in unison or in 4ths or 5ths to the drone pitch. This gives you a reference point for your intonation.

It's often surprising how much our pitch can change as we get louder or softer, which is something we want to avoid. I really hope after watching this, you will all add long tones to your regular practise. I know you will feel and hear the difference really quickly.

Thank you, and happy practicing.

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