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.