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Exercises to strengthen my embouchure?

Discussion in 'General Information' started by Willow11, Dec 30, 2010.

  1. So, I have just started playing again after almost 10 years of not playing ... and I can only play for about 20-30 minutes (after about a week or two) and that is with a softer reed (2.5) ... Does anyone know any good exercises to try and build my embouchure back up? Or is it simply a matter of time and playing that will do it?
  2. play
    and oh wait, play

    only way to build it up that i know. What horn are you on? I know when I take a long break from clarinet or high saxes, i.e. my 3 month sabbatical to the Keys this summer, I just played oboe for a couple of weeks and I was back to full strength. If you have access to a horn with more backpressure your embouchure strength will come back. That being said, I'm a professional doubler, so my muscle memory was still there on the other horns and I still played them, but the bulk of my playing was on oboe to strengthen the muscles back to where they should be. After that, the oboe goes back in it's case :-D, bout all the damn thing is good for
  3. oh, another acceptable form of embouchure strengthening is playing the bagpipes, but alas few of us can do that. Where is saxismyaxe when I need him?

    Only problem with pipes is it doesn't help you get your fingers back under you because you play from memory...
  4. - long tones ... and oh wait MORE long tones
    - Over tones (for that inner embouchure)
    - as much playing as you can!

    Hope that helps :eek:)
  5. saxismyaxe

    saxismyaxe Friends of the WF Distinguished Member

    Right here M8.;) Playing the Great Highland Bagpipe in particular will put hair on your chest, that's for sure. Especially with a hard, new chanter reed and a leaky bag!:D

    Short of the kind of dedication, time and inclination needed to play the pipes, I recommend repeatedly exercising the muscles around your oral cavity in a draw string fashion as you would when forming your embouchure. Doing the jaw exercises normally recommended for reducing a double chin also helps to build up the muscles involved in playing the sax.

    100 or so repetitions of these several times a day will actually help to build up, and maintain your embouchure between practice sessions.

    I believe both are described in The Art Of Saxophone Playing for more detailed how to instructions.
  6. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Smile - Whistle 50 times then rest. Repeat several times a day. Be careful with where you do this and who might be watching. :)

    Another trick is to hold a soda straw in your lips for 30 minutes at a time as you watch TV.

    One of my favorites is to hold two pencils in the corners of your mouth for as long as you can.

    There is always the standard long tones. I like to use the second hand of a clock and practice crescendos and diminuendos as well.

    When one teaches beginning band and has only from September to December for the students to get the "chops" to play their Christmas songs with a good tone and good intonation, one learns every trick in the book. :)
  7. saxismyaxe

    saxismyaxe Friends of the WF Distinguished Member

    Yes, this sounds like the drawstring exercise I was trying to describe.

    Looking through my copy of Larry Teal's afore mentioned The Art Of Saxophone Playing, I see that it is indeed contained there, starting on page 41.

    A book every saxophonist should have in their library anyway.
  8. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    And a tuner when getting louder then softer. Great exercise.
  9. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    all great advice, especially the parts about playing more to build up your stamina.

    But the most important question hasn't been answered .. or asked for that matter. What kind (brand/ model) of saxophone do you play ? :p

  10. Actually I had a whole paragraph about how if you buy the most expensive shiny horn you can get you'll sound better but I decided against it. Oh and the harder the reed means that you are a better player OF COURSE! ...

    ROFL - :p
  11. I just remember something that may help. It may be a little weird, but go with it for a minute.

    Our previous tenor player on my ship introduced me to this because we had to sometimes play 5+ hours a day + practicing and it made a huge difference with embouchure fatigue specifically lower lip fatigue.

    I can't remember what it's called though :( ... What I do know is it is a light pink, waxy, thin-ish material in the shape of the curve of your teeth. I included a pic of how it looks out of the box and how it looks when you are done (forgive my fuzzy green blanket LOL)

    1. Cut wax into 3 equal pieces.
    2. Take one piece of wax and slightly "pre-fold" it in the middle a little to get it started.
    3. Place wax over bottom teeth
    4. Press down firmly to mold the wax to your bottom teeth
    ---- start by pressing down the very middle section behind your teeth
    ---- work out to the left in right - behind your teeth
    ---- with one hand hold the wax firmly against the back of your teeth ... with the other, press down the front half the wax - starting again in the middle
    5. Once you are finished, play for a little bit to let the wax warm up and settle (or do a full practice session or rehearsal is also fine).
    6. After you play, take out the piece of wax and store it safely - aka in way that will make sure it won't get squished.
    ---- when you take it out it will be warm and very flexible, but it will harden as soon as it dries/cools down.
    7. Next time you play, use this piece again. It should just fit in like a mouth-guard or a retainer or something similar. Again it will become soft.
    8. Use until you feel it's time for a new one. (It's one of those it last longer or shorter based on how much you play). As long as it's not broken or gross, use away!

    This worked great on saxophone for me and it might help you either as you build up your stamina again or generally. :eek:)
  12. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    They're called EZO Denture Cushions and are available at most pharmacies. What works for me when "breaking in" a new wax teeth insert, is to soak it in hot water for a few minutes first. That way the wax forms easily to the shape of the teeth.
  13. I play a Alto Sax, Selmer. I am currently playing with a 2.5 reed. I do remember some of these exercises from HS that my teacher would give to new players. I have just always played, I don't remember how I learned initially (or built up my embouchure at that time).

    I assumed, like I always had done, that playing was the best way to build and maintain your embouchure. But these suggestions are exactly what I was looking for in the sense that I needed/wanted something to do when I couldn't play to help that much more :)

    And I have never heard of the wax piece to play with, I will definitely have to look into trying that, as it seems interesting and has definitely peaked my curiosity as to how and how much it will help.

    This site has been amazing, I can't thank you all enough for all of your insight :)
  14. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Steve and WW2 are being a bit facetious. A lot of beginners or folks returning to a horn are of the opinion that better gear will make them better players. Provided you've got kit that's decent and in good repair, you've got enough. That's so simple it's mind boggling. It's like telling someone that the most effective way to diet is eat less and exercise more. It's too simple.

    Anyhow, I would suggest that if you don't have a decent mouthpiece or you're using a metal or crystal one that you should consider a change. At the very inexpensive end, a Yamaha 4C is a very good 'piece that I've recommended. It's also around $25 US.

    Touching on what JBT mentioned about the straw, one way of improving your embochure is to play on an instrument with a much smaller mouthpiece. It's like me practicing on an alto mouthpiece then switching to bari. Hey, you don't even necessarily need a horn, just the mouthpiece -- or you could go get one of those bamboo saxophones or even a penny whistle.

  15. Thanks for that! Now I don't have to play the what-the-heck-are-these game when I need more :eek:)

    I'll give that soak it in hot water thing a try. Thanks for the suggestion. :eek:)

  16. Yeah, I agree! But I thought I would still answer the question. The horn I play on now is fabulous, gorgeous ... but when I started out, I played on an old beat up, scratched, etc. horn and I played just the same :)

    I will look into getting a smaller mouthpiece, I haven't tried that yet. I have just been trying to play as much as possible to re-learn everything, I think I tend to panic a bit because I'm not where I use to be ... In due time I suppose. But thanks so much for the comments :)
  17. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Actually the best horn that I think is for a player is a horn that they like.

    If they like the horn and like playing it then they will progress quicker and farther than anything else (certain assumptions of course).

    Sometimes psychology comes into play when a student (such as when I was young) likes shiny new horns versus one with 20% lacquer. Thus the reason I bought a shiny new Selmer from paper route money versus one of those decrepit used mk VIs back in the day ... of course the Selmer mk VIs having a cult following nowadays.

    for the lower lip I always used a piece of folded up paper - usually cigarette paper over the lower teeth. But I don't play consistently anymore and when the occasion I do .. my entire mouth gets fatigued after a couple hours.

    Last week I attempted to increase it's overall strength by eating 2lbs of chocolate in one sitting -that's alot of mouth exercise especially with caramel ones. I have yet to extensively test any embouchure improvements though. :)
  18. That's hilarious. Yeah, I don't think (as much as we'd like to believe) that caramel's will help with that :) I have been steadily increasing my playing time, I'm just one of those people that if I'm not perfect by the time I need to be perfect, I panic a tad. Because I actually signed up for this as a class and we're playing on the first night (Jan. 17), I'm just a little worried, I won't be able to play the whole class period. But, the more I've been playing, the more confident I feel.

    I also agree with you how it just depends on how the player feels about the horn. I use to play on my HS band teachers sax when I first started playing because my parents couldn't afford one of my own. I loved playing on it because I loved playing ... I've had my Selmer ever since college the first time around, and I still love playing on it, mainly because it's mine :)

    I am definitely going to try finding some of those wax pieces and try that though, I have never heard of that. Although, I do remember in HS when I had braces, I use to put little pieces of wax over the edges of metal that were cutting in my mouth - it did make me talk a little different. ;) LOL
  19. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Make sure you take time to enjoy the performance. I know this can be hard, but when a player is having fun, the audience seems to enjoy the show that much more. I try to play in front of family and instructors before a performance to help me get past the nervious stuff. Sometimes it helps.
  20. I agree! I usually play in front of my boyfriend to help, although, it's not usually the performances that make me nervous, I love performing. It's the fact that I haven't played in so long and that confidence that I use to have reassuring me that I won't mess up, isn't really there quite yet. But I'm confident it will return in time, I've been practicing a lot more, remembering more difficult notes/fingerings and such without a seconds hesitation ... It will just take time :)
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