Overtone Warmup Excercises


It is understood that the three part breathing regimen has been addressed followed by the basic exercise of playing scales, melodies, intervals, etc., on the mouthpiece alone, off the horn (for awhile using piano to check pitch accuracy).

PURPOSE: using ear and laryngeal feeling to “sing” pitches without horn.

1-Preliminary to get the feel of laryngeal/vocal cord placement: play octaves-hi to low; low to high; high to low to high; low to high to low, etc., done with and without the octave key.

PURPOSE: mimics the feeling of pitch placement in larynx and vocal cords.

2-Basic overtone production exercise: fundamental to overtone; fundamental to overtone, back to fundamental; start on overtone and slur down to fundamental, etc.

PURPOSE: beginning of recognition as to what it feels like in vocal tract when playing without relying on embouchure movement (lower lip, jaw, teeth all play their customary “below the threshold of feeling” roles.)

3-Matching exercise (MOST IMPORTANT) for pitch and timbre; fundamental to desired overtone to real fingering-(repeat this step as much as needed); overtone; back down to fundamental.

Variation: start on overtone and slur down to fundamental, etc.

PURPOSE: tuning and timbral imagination being used; you have to “explain” to yourself what is missing in the REAL fingering color as compared to the overtone fingering on a given note.


1-Vary sequence: off Bb for example go to third ot, first ot, to 4th ot, etc.-PURPOSE: makes overtone placement less predictable.

2-“Lester Young:” from overtone to real fingering or visa versa as fast and smooth as possible.

PURPOSE: smooth transition between ot and real fingering-more difficult the higher you go in ot series.

3-Play from middle C all the way up WITHOUT octave key (scales, intervals, lines, etc); also play from middle C down WITH octave key open-do for a few minutes and then return to normal use and note the open feeling.

PURPOSE: This exercise goes under the category of EXaggeration (as in EXercise!!) to find a good norm when actual playing real fingerings,etc.

4-Lower pitch by using larynx (not lip drops); start with B down to Bb; B down to A; B down to Ab, etc.

PURPOSE: flexibility and “stretching” laryngeal feeling.

5-Bugle Call: besides doing bugle call on lower fundamentals (Bb to Db) use “false” fundamentals, meaning do that melody from D up to A; PURPOSE: quick overtone placement and adjustment.

6-Fales fundamentals: do matching, varying sequence etc., using D up to A as fundamental.

PURPOSE: Exaggeration again!!

7-Alternate fingerings: as you go higher up in the horn there are more false fingerings available; play a scale, line, intervals, etc., using all the overtones and without octave key as desired.

PURPOSE: very useful in “real” playing for color variations and laryngeal adjustments.

8-Palm key altissimo: starting from palm D play a major 6th above and then a major ninth holding D; use all palm fingerings.

PURPOSE: Exaggeration of laryngeal feeling and useful in “real” playing.

9-Hold palm key fingerings and play all notes STILL sustaining the original pitch: hence overriding the tube (can be random fingerings); PURPOSE: Proof that if vocal cord/laryngeal feeling is happening the pitch is truly coming from the vocal tract and NOT from fingerings per se; demonstrates the true source of pitch is in the inner ear with adjustments at the embouchure as needed, etc.; fingerings are making use of the tube for “real” playing.

10-Double embouchure (double lip): play lines, scales, etc. with upper lip on top, with as light as possible downward teeth pressure; again for a few minutes, then return to normal playing and note the “open” feeling.

PURPOSE: exaggerated “open” feeling in vocal tract.

11-Detailed matching colors from one note to another: play A and then down a third to F and back to A with real fingerings; note any color change between the two and try to match either the F to the A or visa versa using all of above to adjust.

PURPOSE: timbral imagination at work.

These extended exercises (note EX as in EXercise and EXaggerate) should be done only when fundamental matching exercise is going well and part of daily routine; one overtone at a time!!

Do each extended exercise for a week or two before moving on; this is the “meditation” aspect of playing the horn. Sound color is everything and connection between ear-(inner hearing and imagination-chest and head tone recognition, etc.); mind-(directing energy to that part of the anatomy being used-vocal cords, larynx, etc.) and body execution (eventually muscle memory) is the goal leading to complete flexibility of tone color on every note at any time. Add the benefits of pitch discrimination, real time use of multiphonics, false fingerings, altissimo, etc.