Almost every instrument seems to have some long tone practice except for the guitar. I would break down long tones into two basic categories:
a) sustained by the left hand.
b) Right hand tremolo
With a) – sustaining a note via the left hand we immediately face the same challenge that pianists face: decay. The minute we strike a note it has already begun to fade. So, does that mean we should kill it right away? It is amazing how relaxing it is to play a chord, or single notes and let them ring as long as possible. I like to spend a few minutes of any practice time doing this. Of course, I am fully aware that the use of pedals will give a different type of sustain but I am dealing with the acoustic or amplified guitar, not electronic effects. I remember watching Daniel Barenboim’s “Barenboim On Beethoven” series when he animatedly directed a student to perform crescendo, except, it was a sustained chord and we all know the piano… Barenboim followed up with a reminder that this was, of course, impossible BUT we have to believe it is possible and proceeded to demonstrate how he got an extra nudge out of a sustained chord by pressing the sostenuto pedal after he had plead the chord and held it briefly. While technically it was a closer to a sfz he made it clear that at that moment he imagined a crescendo. This was a classic example of how intent effected outcome!
With b) we are giving the illusion of a sustained note by playing repeated notes with great rapidity. This technique has been used in classical guitar for years in pieces like Tarrega’s “Recuerdo De l’Alhambra” and several works by the amazing Peruvian composer Agustin Barrios. In groups of 4 16th notes the first was executed by the RH thumb while the remaining pitches were repeated notes, usually the melody executed in a way that gave the illusion of a melody and accompaniment played by two guitars. Flamenco guitarists often seemed to use groups of three notes as opposed to 4, but again at such pace that it can sound like a continuos note. Lenny Breau’s mastery of this technique was amazing.
Now to the pick. Tremolo exercises seemed to exclusively deal with all down (slower) all up or up-down, down-up. But what if we thought of our picking hand as being a drummer? Drummers who study the military snare drum rudiments are well used to rolls that employ different numbers of strokes, then there’s the paradiddles…I have often worked out of drum sticking exercise books, again, for just a few minutes and find it has a great loosening effect on one’s chops, try it and let me know what you think…