Practicing long tones with a tuner is a very good way to recondition our wind playing apparatus: embouchure, oral cavity, breath support, and ears. Hardware tuners work very well. Most are adjusted to slightly “average” the pitch produced to make the display consistent (if they were too sensitive, the “needle” would jump around too much for meaningful feedback). Of course, sometimes we want to know in detail how steady (or not) we are playing.
The best software tuner I’ve found is iStroboSoft ($9.99) by Peterson. This app is available for iOS and Android. For the intensely serious, the flagship software is Peterson’s desktop software, StroboSoft ($49/$99) for Mac or PC. Why is it the best? Well, the strobe display gives you more information about the sound you are producing, and the sensitivity is incomparable. So, we’re seeing the truth about the long tones we play!
Another equally important exercise is to tune by ear. Using a pitch reference (some electronic tuners have pitch generating capability–I record a simple loop of an electronically generated tone in my DAW), play long tones at the unison, octave(s), fifth, and fourth. One develops the ability to hear the “beats” if the pitches do not agree. The next step is to practice long tone scales and arpeggios with the reference pitch. Learning to tune accurately by ear, of course, is a real-world skill.
Maybe the best approach is to use both approaches!? Try a set of long tones with the tuner of your choice. Begin in the mid-range, and gradually extend out to the higher and lower registers. Vary the loudness. The more conscientious we are about playing consistently in tune with a good sound, the better the workout. Then, switch on the reference pitch(s) and play a set of long tones by ear. I think the work with the tuner ultimately will be good for our aural hygiene, especially as we depend more and more on our ears! Daily long tones/pitch workouts will pay big dividends in terms of endurance, reliability, and confidence.