You may have noticed something amiss with the recording I did of the Bach Quodlibet yesterday. There was a little bit of “chirping”, which is the name I know for the little squeak that happens right before a note sounds. Also, my last note was not very well supported- it had a quaver to it.
The chirping is caused by not having the embouchure set before attacking the note. The quavering is due to a weak embouchure that is not holding firm while holding out a note.
Both of these problems can be fixed through the practice of long tones. Those are exactly what they sound like- holding a note for a long period of time. Ideally, you would do this with a metronome, so you can be sure that each note is being held for the same length of time. That way you don’t skimp on the trickier note or favor the easier notes.
You can probably imagine that this helps build embouchure strength, to eliminate any quavering sound you might have. But it helps with the chirping too, because building that firm muscle memory is what will allow you to efficiently ‘set’ your embouchure, to the eliminate the chirp at the attack of the note. It can be hard to keep good embouchure while tonguing, and while it seem counter-intuitive, long tones actually help improve tonguing, thanks to that muscle memory.
Here is some sheet music, for those who don’t know where to start with long tones:
I recommend starting and ending each practice session with long tones, especially if you are new to playing or have taken a long break from playing. Play at a moderate dynamic, and concentrate on making the best sound possible.
I’m going to try to concentrate on slow, lyrical pieces for the meanwhile. Here is what I am working on now: