I understand that to get a good tone the best exercise is to play long tones. There are tons of variations of long tone exercises:

a) starting pianissimo and ending fortissimo for as long as you can hold it (ideally over 10 seconds) over the whole range b) starting fortissimo and ending pianissimo over the whole range c) Do a constant volume long tone over the whole range d) Do long tone scale work

And I can imagine tons of other variations. What would you recommend as a routine for tone improvement?

Does it matter much which specific long tone exercise you pick? Or it's more important to do it for longer periods of time? Is 10 minute long tone daily enough to see improvement in a few months?

  • 1
    I'll answer a question you didn't ask: "Is there an amount of time that's too much?" Yes. You're not just learning a skill in this case, you're also making physiological change, expanding your lungs, and there is such a thing as over-training. (Though I imagine your lips will tell you they've had enough first!) Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 14:45

2 Answers 2


There’s a lot in your question. I’m going to relay what my teacher told me recently which is that excellent tone takes a long time, maybe five to fifteen years. No matter what you do, if you practice clarinet in some way every day, and you build up to around an hour of practice or more every day, you will definitely improve in many areas over a period of six months.

One thing is as the student, it’s hard to notice your improvement so you might get frustrated more easily if you don’t record yourself and listen back weeks or months later. Another option is to have a teacher who reminds you of how far you’ve come.

All of that said, your most efficient progress will come by not focusing on only one aspect of playing for long periods (like only tone or only fingering or only articulations). By practicing broadly, all of those things will slowly improve together.

Combining my experience with my teacher’s comments suggests that better tone comes from multiple little areas. Those include proper breathing, strength and endurance of your embouchure, precise control of your embouchure, and even fingering to some extent. Along with embouchure strength comes the ability to play the appropriate reed stiffness. Finally, the quality of the reed and the instrument itself make noticeable contributions.

To summarize my point, there isn’t an exercise that mainly develops tone. The upside is that all of your playing will slowly lead to better tone, especially if you spend some time listening to your tone every time you play and make tiny adjustments to improve it. As your upper range extends and your lips and tongue develop strength, flexibility, and muscle memory of the precise positions, your tone will improve while you work on other things. And it won’t help to be impatient about it - it takes time.

All of that said, there are long tone exercises that can help in several areas at once and long tones are one good type of warmup. My teacher has run me through various long tone exercises in the last six months, each focusing on one or more problem areas that I’ve had.

Many, if not most, teachers will happily give you a lesson over the Internet and won’t mind giving you a single lesson every few months, so you don’t need to spend hundreds a month on weekly lessons to get some professional advice. Consider reaching out on Facebook or online classifieds to find a teacher, who could be anywhere in adjacent time zones to find a teacher who is willing to do a one hour lesson to hear you play a bit and suggest a practice routine for the next several months.


The advantage of doing long tones, especially the pp -- ff -- pp kind, is that you can concentrate solely on tone quality (and breath control of course).
As Todd W suggests, it's equally important to be doing the correct things to achieve that tone, which is why having a good teacher observe your mechanics is critical.

But, to paraphrase several band directors I've known, "tone quality practice ends when practice ends." Which is to say, as much as possible try to be aware of your tone during all aspects of practice. If nothing else, a collapse of tone can be a good indicator of the passages which cause you the most difficulty in rhythm, mechanics, or something else.

  • 1
    My experience with long tones (on both clarinet and French horn) that vary in dynamics is that I’ve learned to control dynamics but even more to refine my embouchure. There are notes where it’s easy to play them ff but as I go to pp I have to fix embouchure problems to keep the note, and at least on the lower range of the clarinet a few notes that are easier at pp than ff in the same way. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 15:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.