Quick update

I’m trying really hard to get back into the swing of posting here.  I really miss it but we received some rather catastrophic health news about my wife and I’ve been dealing with that since back in July (and dealing with the symptoms since possibly as far back as February). I’ll post more about the situation as I feel more comfortable about talking about it.

Music has been one of the things that has kept me sane and engaged during this ordeal and I’m blessed that my family and friends recognized early on how therpeutic it is for me. They’ve been dedicated to making sure I can get out to play gigs along with all of the other help they’ve been giving with helping care for my wife and our two boys. Having a wonderful, amazing group of family and friends has been a huge difference maker for me. Music has been helpful as I mentioned and exercise (especially yoga) has also been very important to help me cope with a terrible situation.

I’ve been playing with Technicolor Motor Home and Jr. Cline and the Recliners (where I am now the tenor player instead of alto/bari) and I’ve also been subbing with other bands like Rollex and Bobby and the Believers.

Here’s an audio clip of the last gig I did with TMH a couple weeks ago. It’s a version of Aja we did live without ever rehearsing it together. Everyone learned their parts (from a live version we found on You Tube) and we just threw it together on the spot. It’s not perfect but I’m really happy with the way it turned out under the circumstances. Hope you like it:

Review: Jazzlab Sax Harness

Pretty Girl Not Included

Pretty Girl Not Included

One of the big problems I’ve had the last few years when playing bari is ending up with a very sore back. It had gotten to the point where I would take the bari off the strap anytime I had any decent amount of rest and then re-hang it before the next entrance. I’m talking about as little as six bars rest. That technique got me through the gig and kept me from being in terrible pain the next day.

While playing bari always seemed to affect my lower back the most, playing tenor with a normal neck strap always made my neck sore although not nearly as much as bari affected my back. I never liked harness style straps because I didn’t like the way the horn hung – it seemed to be too close to my body with that style of strap. Because of the way it hung, it always felt like the angle of the horn was wrong for me. I think it would be fine for sitting down but I spend most of my gigs standing up and I like the horn to be more out front than angled to my side. I started hearing a lot of great things about the Jazzlab Sax Holder and I finally took the plunge to try it out. My experience with it so far is over three gigs and several practice sessions but I believe I have a good feel for what it does and how that affects me.

How Did It Do?

There’s no doubt the weight is much better distributed with the Sax Holder. The weight of the horn was moved from my neck (with a pull on my lower back) to my shoulders. The strap adjusts fairly easily to the contours of my shoulders and the weight is further distributed to a brace that rests on the body. This brace is adjustable both for height as well as thickness and I think this is the part that saves my back while the shoulder straps save my neck. The strap works like a marching tether for drummers in many ways.

The first time I used it I had a gig on bari and alto and the strap arrived during the day of the gig while I was at work. So like any rational person I decided to try it on the gig without any test. To make matters worse, traffic going to the gig was terrible so I didn’t even make sound check so I was only able to try the strap for a few minutes before I went on. I did have a regular strap on stage just in case…I’m not totally nuts…but I didn’t need it because the Sax Holder worked like a champ. It was effortless to hold the bari while playing and I didn’t take it off at all while playing the bari songs. I also felt very comfortable playing alto. The angle of both horns was right where I wanted them to be. The Sax Holder has a longer strap portion that acts more like a traditional strap and that makes it much better than a harness for me.

The second gig I used it on was just tenor and I once again didn’t have much time to adjust it (it was an outdoor wedding and you probably know how those go). Again, I appreciated how well the pressure on my neck and back was alleviated but this time I felt like maybe having more time to tweak the adjustable shoulder braces would have helped me a lot. The seemed to dig in a little bit more than they should the whole night. On the other hand, the strap works really well with a tux or a suit as it hides well under the jacket, doesn’t mess up your bow tie, and actually keeps a traditional tie in place without a tie clip.

The third time I used it, was a outdoor concert and I was dressed MUCH more casually than the other two gigs. In this case, it actually interfered with my open collar shirt more than I wanted it to. Plus, the guys in the section were giving me grief about it a little it (“Oh I thought you were wearing a brace because you broke your sternum”). Ultimately, I decided not to finish out the gig with it that night even though it was still very comfortable for me. I think I can better plan my clothing in the future when I want to use it.

Pros

Really does protect both my neck and my lower back

Works well under a suit jacket and with ties

Horns hang at a good angle for me

Easily adjustable when switching horns

Lightweight

Comes with a soft bag and stores comfortably in the bell when in the case

Cons

Sometimes it’s awkward to have on when you aren’t playing. Walking up and down steps feels weird if you try to look down

Doesn’t work well over an open collar shirt

Can look a little strange when you aren’t hanging a horn on it

Verdict

For bari this is a no-brainer. It makes playing one pain free for the first time since I was much younger. I was able to feel comfortable without removing the horn and I was even able to move freely and do dance moves with the section. For the tenor, where I don’t have as much lower back trouble but I do have neck strain, it’s something that I can and will use under the right circumstance. Even if the guys give me grief, it’s well worth being pain free after the gig. For alto it’s really not necessary but I am often playing alto in conjunction with either the tenor or bari so it will get used especially since it is so adjustable. Overall, I think this strap is a winner and money well spent. I actually ordered mine through a store connected to Amazon but I don’t think they have them all the time. I’ve also heard that there is a model 2 coming out but I will probably wait on that until I hear more as this one works fine.

Stand Up For Yourself

One of the things I wish someone had told me a long time ago is how important my posture while playing would be to both the quality of my performance and my long-term health.  Well, it’s not like no one told me but I guess I should have recognized the impact that not paying attention to it would have.  Over the last few years I have been scratching and clawing my way to a better posture and it’s been a tough problem although not an insurmountable one.

Larry Teal literally wrote the book on saxophone playing but this guy doesn't look cool at all!

Larry Teal literally wrote the book on saxophone playing but this guy doesn’t look cool at all!

I think we’ve all seen those pictures in the beginning of the method books where some dull looking dude in a suit demonstrates the proper posture for playing both sitting and standing but it just looks so boring and I want to be a hip jazz dude or a wailing rock guy; I don’t need to worry about posture I just want to look cool.  The real truth of the matter is that bad posture actually worsens your performance, keeping you from breathing correctly and constricting air flow.  Also, there are tons of examples of hip and cool players that have excellent posture…look at guys like Eric Alexander, Paul Booth, or Bob Reynolds.  Even the coolest guy ever, Clarence Clemons, stands very straight and tall while he plays.

There are several things that contributed to my bad posture including a lifetime of being at least somewhat overweight (and being self-conscious about it) or spending a lot of time in front of a computer without knowing how to set up my work area but playing the saxophone has been a major contributor.  One reason was my ignorance or misunderstanding of how to best position the saxophone and neck strap.  The other is the simple fact that hanging anywhere from 5 to 12 pounds (alto to bari on average) on a strap around your neck for prolonged periods of time is probably a bad idea.

Here’s a great article on how to check your posture in various ways and some exercises you can do to fix it if its bad.  One simple test that is missing from the article is checking your hands when you are standing straight with them at your side.  If they are naturally facing inward toward your hips, then your shoulders are lined up correctly.  If, on the other hand, they face backwards then your shoulders are slumped and you should do some of those shoulder strengthening and repositioning exercises.  I’ve learned a lot about my own posture over the years and for my part I’ve done many of those exercises as assigned by a physical therapist as well as a lot of pushups but I’ve gotten much better results and understanding by studying both Yoga and Tai Chi for the last few years.

Of course, none of that is any good if I didn’t take steps to fix my posture with the saxophone in my hands.  There are many things you can check but here are some tips:

  • Stand tall with your weight equally distributed between your feat (side to side and front to back).  Try to feel weight in all four corners of your feet.
  • When sitting, keep your back straight and keep both feet flat on the floor.
  • Adjust the neck strap so that you don’t have to crane your neck in any way especially forward.  This usually means raising it higher than you might think you should.  It will probably be uncomfortable at first but it’s a great adjustment to make.
  • Try to keep your shoulders lined up over your hips rather than twisting to one side or the other.  Check out mountain pose in Yoga or preparation posture in Tai Chi to get a feel for this.
  • Try to be aware of your neck and shoulders and take steps to relax and straighten if you feel tension.
  • Let your arms hang naturally from your shoulders and bend at the elbow to find the keys.  Try to keep your wrists flowing naturally from the end of your arms rather than bending or arcing them.
This is the Tai Chi method for standing straight. It's not that far away from a great start at saxophone posture.

This is the Tai Chi method for standing straight. It’s not that far away from a great start at saxophone posture.

These guidelines are just that, guidelines, and you should still have fun and express yourself when the time is right.  You can do the opposite of all of those things for short periods of time if the mood hits you but for most of your playing take my advice and pay attention to your posture for your long term health and for the betterment of your playing.  Eliminating twists, relaxing your body, and standing straight will allow you to fill your lungs more fully and maximize your airflow.  Plus, your back and neck will thank you in the long run.  I am still a long way from a perfect posture but it gets better all the time.  In fact, every time someone posts a picture of me on Facebook I’m usually way more worried about whether my shoulders look rounded or if my neck is bent forward rather than how cool I look…I mean of course I look cool right?…right?  Never mind.  🙂

One thing I am planning on buying to try over the next month or so is one of these straps.  I’m hoping that actually taking the weight from my neck and constantly pulling me forward will help but that’s for a future review.