Flute – Essential daily flute lessons: Whistle tones and long tones

Flute – Essential daily flute lessons: Whistle tones and long tones


Flute – Essential daily flute lessons: Whistle tones and long tones

Flute – Every player wants to have complete control over their sound and master the ability to make small adjustments and get a big effect. A well-trained flute embouchure is at the core of this mastery, but breath control also plays a vital role. All lessons should begin with exercises that strengthen these foundational skills on which to build.

Although “whistle tones” seem like a bit of a parlor trick, students of any skill level can use these to good effect when they learn to play the instrument. When I was sitting in the hallway outside the door of my flute teacher at Penn State, I would practice my whistle tones to warm up my embouchure.  

The sound is very hard to control and by practicing them before my flute lessons, I was able to make fine adjustments and gain new muscle memory with these subtle changes.

A whistle tone is made by fingering a note, but not sounding that note fully. You blow a very small, delicately focused stream of air on the outer edge of the sound hole so that a slight whistle sound is made. 

First, simply try to sustain that note without waiver or running out of air. Once you’re able to do that easily and with many different fingerings, move on to harmonics. Now try to adjust your flute embouchure to smoothly move from the first root note up to the next harmonic that will sound. Try to sustain that note, then adjust to the next highest note, back down to the second note, then down to the root note.

Jeffrey Khaner teaches “long tones” as part daily exercises for the flute. These four note chromatic scale phrases are repeated and played double forte at 80 bpm with a full rich sound and cover the entire range of the instrument. Each note is to sound the same as the prior and subsequent note in all octaves and all eight notes should be played in one breath with full measured vibrato. 

The goal is to achieve a consistent full and rich tone by making embouchure adjustments with each note and completing the exercise in one breath. Each practice session and lesson should include a run through long tones.

Lessons for all skill levels can begin with an assessment of the flutist’s ability to properly play whistle tones and long tones. Consistent improvement with both exercises will help students have more control and mastery over their sound. 

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