Toning Up

A disappointing day…I left some ensemble music at my apartment, so I had to sacrifice an hour and a half of my day to make the round trip and retrieve it. Therefore, I only practiced an hour and a half. Fortunately, I got to play a solo in every piece at big band rehearsal and combo rehearsal multiple times, so it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been.


The short version:


15 Minutes long tones

15 Minutes licks

30 Minutes One Note Samba

30 Minutes Donna Lee


My interview with Jason Gay really inspired me to practice long tones. I went through a bunch of his videos and noticed how excellent his tone and intonation are on every single pitch. I also think that tone is a lot like body language in the context of human interaction. Often it’s more important how you say (play) something than what you say (play).


When I play long tones, I begin in the middle of my horn and hit the pitch hard, then I do a combination of several exercises. Sometimes I bend the pitch down with my lips and slowly raise it until it is perfectly in tune. That’s to improve my intonation. Other times, I slide my lips out and get louder, then slide them back and get softer. This was brutal on my mouth last year but has strengthened my embouchure a lot and helps me stay in tune across dynamic ranges.


Regardless of which I choose from the above, I slur down in the same breath one half step, repeat the exercise (bending pitch or sliding lips), then slur back up. I repeat this once, then begin again but start a half step lower.


So that would be:


B (bend pitch down and up)

Bflat (bend pitch down and up)

B (bend pitch down and up)


Then Bflat (bend down and up)

A (bend down and up)

Bflat (down and up)

And continue all the way to the bottom of my horn.


Then I restart in the middle and work my way up by half steps.


After long tones, I worked on one lick in all 12 keys. My teacher literally texted me a short recording of himself playing a V-I lick and told me to learn it by ear in all 12 keys. So I took that at a variety of tempos in all the keys.


I paid special attention to my tone today, and began the lick in each key very slowly to play it with great tone. Then gradually I sped it up.


Eventually I moved on to One Note Samba by Antonio Carlos Jobim, which is a tune I am playing with Roosevelt’s Brazilian Combo. I had only played it a few times during rehearsals, and with a workshop coming this Friday I wanted to really get inside the changes and practice applying the language I have (licks).


I played my usual harmonic chord tones exercise, playing all chord tones from the bottom of my horn to the top in time, then top to bottom in time. Then I used a backing track to solo over it. But something sounded off.


Since our singers wanted a different key, I realized the harmony of the track was completely different than what I was playing. So I made do without any backing which was probably better for me anyway.


With Donna Lee, I employed a new technique my teacher showed me last week. I would play 9 8th notes in a row at a relatively slow tempo, and the 9th note would have to be voice-led to land on a chord tone of the new chord. Then rest a measure, and resume on the following chord (in other words play over the first chord, rest on the second, play on the third). This is a complementary exercise to my chord tone technique; where that makes me familiar with the changes, this makes me familiar with appropriate scales and voice leading simple licks.


I noticed an immediate effect in my improvisation. I definitely played more scalar passages and more smoothly connected the changes. However I tended to play almost exclusively 8th notes if I wasn’t careful.


I ended my session by taking a chorus of improve, but playing the lick my teacher texted to me every I came across a V chord.


Tomorrow I’m planning to get in a full day of 2.5 hours at least. Next week will feature an interview with an amazing clarinetist. If you haven’t looked already, then my recent interviews with guitarist Dominic Flynn and saxophonist Jason Gay are full of valuable insights.


Happy practicing!

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