Updated: Dec 22, 2022
As mentioned in our post on the top beginner saxophone tips, playing with a lot of tension can negatively affect your tone and technique, and possibly cause playing injuries as well. When you're tense, you can't produce a good tone, you might squeak, you can't play notes as quickly, and you may not be able to take in as much air. The good news is that you can easily correct tension by simply being aware and spending 5-10 minutes warming up with these thoughts in mind:
Keep your shoulders relaxed. When thinking about reducing tension in our hands, we often just think about relaxing our hands; however, the tension almost always starts in our shoulders. We have a piece of metal around our neck and we're putting in a lot of effort, so our shoulders may automatically tense up. Then that tension travels down to our forearms, all the way down to the tips of our fingers. So start with your shoulders. Stretch. Be aware. Drop those shoulders.
Stretch your hands when you warm up. Preventing shoulder tension is step one, but let's give our other muscles some nice, stretchy relaxation too. Try extending one arm straight in front of you, palm out. With your other hand, grab your pointer and middle finger and gently pull them back until you can feel your forearm muscles stretching. Now repeat but stretch back your pinky and ring fingers. Do the same with your thumb. To see these stretches in detail, you can check out our full set of warm-up stretches here.
Pretend you've been given a mild sedative in the face. Trust us- this is a good (and fun!) visualization to help relax our embouchure. We want our facial muscles to be as relaxed as possible while still being in control enough to play. So just pretend that the muscles around your jaw are totally limp. Then increase muscle engagement until the note speaks. And watch out for the return of tension- don't let it happen.
TRY THIS EXERCISE: Play a G long tone, and slowly relax your embouchure muscles until the note stops speaking and it’s just air. Then slow firm up your embouchure little by little until the note speaks again. Next, focus on playing G again with the most relaxed embouchure possible that still allows the note to speak.
4. Keep your fingers curved and close to the keys, even when you aren’t using them. That's right, even when some of your fingers aren't being used, they should rest on the keys. Watch out for “flying pinkies.” Since we don’t use our pinkies for as many notes, they tend to stray from the keys more than our other fingers.
Try using a mirror for this. Sometimes you think your fingers are close to the keys, but the mirror will keep you honest.
These four tips will do wonders for keeping you relaxed while you play, allowing you to sound better and play faster!
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