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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saxophone Skills: Do You Know The Wisdom Of The Five Points? The Secret To Fast Fingers Part l

The Secret to Fast Fingers Part 1: The 5 Stability Points

by Sarah Wolkowski, Saxophone By The Lake

There are just some things we don’t hold close to our hearts.

Tax bills, depleted uranium, soiled diapers... best dealt with at a distance - don’t you agree?

The saxophone, on the other hand, is best kept close.

It’s useful to think of the instrument as an additional appendage.

As a wise-one once said, ‘Don’t bend to play the saxophone, bring the saxophone to you!’

It’s an instrument of ergonomic perfection. It was designed to fit the human body, unlike older instruments, which developed over decades of trial and error.

Use the wisdom of the Five Stability Points, and technical excellence is in your future!

In sequence...

1. The entire weight of the saxophone is supported by the neck strap. No other part of your body lifts or carries any of the weight. Your neck does it all. The neck strap should be adjusted so that the mouthpiece slides easily into the mouth. Neither should you extend your neck up to reach for the mouthpiece, nor tilt your head down. Most often, students don’t raise the neck strap high enough, and end up pushing or extending their necks forward and down, destroying good posture, and choking off the air flow. Pull up your strap. Keep you head balanced on your shoulders, with your neck in a neutral and relaxed position, and see how the mouthpiece comes to you.

2. The right hand thumb hooks under the thumb rest. Once hooked, the ball of your thumb presses against the body of the instrument. Lightly push the saxophone forward, and slightly to the left.

3. The left hand thumb rests on the button and the octave key mechanism. To counter-balance, your left hand thumb, positioned diagonally across the button and the octave key pushes the instrument forward and slightly to the right. The thumbs work in conjunction, pushing away and against each other to stabilize the body of the instrument.


4. The top teeth contact the top of the mouthpiece with the full weight of your head bearing down. The human heads weighs an amazing 10 pounds! That’s 4.5 kilograms, if you like. Imagine lifting a 10 pound bowling ball. That is a lot of weight! There is an easy way of testing if you are using enough force. Observe the neck of the saxophone: it should be motionless when you play. If you clamp down with too much force, over time, an indentation will develop on the mouthpiece. To avoid disfiguring mouthpieces, band teachers and instrument dealers will, understandably, attach black pads or mouthpiece cushions to the top of the mouthpiece. These pads provide a softer cushion for the teeth, and subsequently, most students will overcompensate, and clamp down with too much force. This can lead to pain in the jaw. With the right technique, these patches are not necessary. The natural weight of the head provides just enough force to stabilize the mouthpiece.

5. The bottom or side of the saxophone must be balanced on the body. When standing with the alto saxophone, the key guard covering the Eb key has to make contact with the body, usually in the area of the lower abdomen. Proper thumb positioning should make it easy to push this key guard against the body, stabilizing the lower half of the instrument. With the tenor and the baritone, the stability is achieved by resting the keyless side of the instrument against the right thigh.

The five stability points push the saxophone into a motionless freeze-frame, as if the instrument is suspended in space. Instead of holding the instrument, it becomes integrated into your body position. This allows your fingers to be totally free of any tension or strain, and they can move extremely quickly up and down the saxophone keyboard. In addition to maximum finger efficiency, you avoid the risk of injury.

Relax, stabilize your saxophone, and enjoy the virtuosity of your fingers!



Series presented by

Sarah Anne Wolkowski, B.Mus (McGill) M.Mus (U. of Alberta)
Saxophone Performance and Instruction

1 comment:

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