Although the human body was not made with playing the saxophone in mind, the saxophone is constructed to be as comfortable as possible to play. The following commentswill focus on some of the outward physical aspects of playing the saxophone: hand position, posture (both seated and standing), and neck strap length.
HAND POSITION: The hands should assume a neutral position in front of the body, the right hand in line with the right leg and the left hand with the left leg. The fingers should have a natural curve, very much like a softball in each hand. The position one's hand takes to shake another person's hand is also a good description of the natural attitude to be assumed. The thumbs should be in contact with the thumb rests at all times. The right thumb is under the hooked thumb rest; remember that this thumb rest is usually adjustable. The left thumb should always be in contact with both the thumb rest and the register key. Younger players will frequently move the left thumb to operate the register key, a habit which will inevitably hinder the technique. The wrists should be relatively straight rather than broken. Check to see that the forearm flows easily into the hand without a noticeable angle at the wrist. This will help keep the fingers free and supple, allowing the motion necessary to manipulate the keys.
POSTURE: A standing position is the best position to encourage proper use of the muscles involved in playing a wind instrument. Both feet should be firmly planted on the floor a few inches apart. The body is confidently upright, neither bent forward nor ramrod straight. The shoulders are roughly parallel to the floor. Because many players perform almost exclusively in a band, it's important that their seated position be as similar to a standing posture as possible. Players should sit well forward in the chair, using the chair to support the body in an alert position. Again, both feet should be on the floor and the body upright. The saxophone should not rest on the chair. The tenor and the baritone saxophones must be held to the side; the soprano saxophone should be held in front. Although the alto saxophone can be positioned either to the side or in front, many players prefer the instrument in front because this is where it is held when standing. A good test of a correct seated position is to see if the student can stand easily. If the body weight must be shifted or the feet moved in order to stand, then the seated position is no allowing the same use of necessary muscles as the standing position.
NECK STRAP LENGTH: The neck strap should be adjusted to the length which brings the mouthpiece to the player without reaching. Young saxophonists often attempt to play with the neck strap too long. This forces them to reach for the instrument by bringing the neck forward, which is uncomfortable and restricts the air stream. It also puts unnecessary weight on the hands (especially the right hand) and the lower lip. The job of the neck strap is to hold the instrument; the job of the hands is to balance the instrument and to move the keys. Many younger players are unaware that the length of the neck strap must be adjusted when changing from seated to standing or the reverse. The neck strap must be shorter when standing than when seated. This is particularly useful information for saxophonists who stand to take a solo in jazz band. These are a few suggestions to help young saxophonists establish good habits and more experienced ones to correct old problems. The idea is always to eliminate anything that gets in the way of creating the best musical results in the most effective and simple way.
Thomas Liley, D. Mus., Yamaha Artist/Clinician
Woodwind Faculty, Joliet Community College