There’s a new memoir out about an oboist. (Not a name I recognize and when I googled the name does come up as an oboist anywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t still playing.) The reviewer writes about the oboist’s having to practice only long tones for “three mind-numbing months.” and goes on to say, “Long tones are notes held until you run out of breath…”.

Hm. That’s not how they work for me, and yes, I have my oboe students play them, for a number of reasons. Maybe I’ll write about that someday. I know of one colleague who disagrees with me and doesn’t have students play them at all.

But honestly, does any oboist play a long tone until they “run out of breath”? I’m curious!


  1. I play long tones to control the volume and tone of a note without affecting the pitch–a difficult task on the oboe! I sometimes use them to help expand my endurance or breath control, but not just ’til I “run out of breath.”

  2. I have my students do them for a number of reasons, but a biggie is understanding air speed and embouchure: faster air with no change and of course we go sharp … they see that on the tuner quite easily, once I put it in front of them. (I first don’t let them see it: they play their mf long tone and then I turn on the tuner A and say, “Where were you?” trying to develop their ear.)

    I also use it for timbre: I sing an A for them and change the timbre constantly, showing them how easy it is (and disconcerting) to change timbre, and how we don’t want to do that while holding a note … at least not most of the time! 🙂