7 Tips to Keep Your Lower Lip Pain-Free
Almost all of us know the feeling. It’s been a long practice or rehearsal session, and the inside of our lower lip is so sore that we can barely go on playing, thanks to our flesh-piercing lower teeth. (Ouch! Sounds painful when I put it that way, no?)
This article was my response to an email sent by a newsletter subscriber who was having a problem with this very issue. Although he was the one asking the question, he actually had two great solutions that I thought I’d share with you along with my own suggestions.
I would say my main problem is my mouth getting sore where my lower teeth hit my mouth. I guess I’m biting. Putting a piece of paper over my lower teeth helps. Using a softer setup also helps. Any suggestions?
San Antonio TX
So in my attempt to help Rich as well as anyone else with this problem, here are some things to try:
1) Stop rolling your lower lip in all the way over your bottom teeth.
Although espoused by many classical saxophone teachers and resources including Larry Teal’s classic book, The Art of Saxophone Playing the technique of rolling your lower lip all the way over your bottom teeth may not be the best choice for you. Many say that rolling the lip all the way in results in a darker and possibly smaller sound, and that’s been my experience as well. Due to the darker tone color which results from this embouchure, it’s quite popular among classical sax players.
But for jazz folks such as myself, I prefer the approach taught by the great Joe Allard (among many other legendary saxophone teachers). In this approach, the lower lip isn’t rolled in so much, but instead, the emphasis is on contacting the reed using the fleshiest part of the lower lip. The main reason to play with the lip in a more outwards position is the fact that the fleshier part of the lower lip allows the reed to vibrate more, and because the reed is vibrating more, the sound produced is noticeably larger.
If you look a close ups of many of the great jazz saxophonists such as Michael Brecker, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine, and many, many more, you’ll notice that the lower lip is positioned outwards instead of inwards.
So there you have it – two birds, one stone. A bigger sound, and a happy lower inner lip.
More on this topic here.
2) Check to see if you’re pinching the mouthpiece.
For many sax players, it’s a natural tendency to clamp down on the mouthpiece – especially when playing notes in the horn’s upper register, or playing at a loud volume. Get in the habit of using your, as Joe Allard refers to it, “inner embouchure” when changing pitch or volume. (Practicing on the mouthpiece alone is a great way to develop your inner embouchure, by the way ).
Besides cutting off your sound and negatively impacting your intonation, pinching down can make for some serious pressure from the sharp edges of the lower teeth.
3) Make sure that your setup isn’t too resistant.
This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with suggestion #2. If your reed is too hard or your mouthpiece too open – or if both of these issues are happening simultaneously, you’re going to be quite tempted to pinch down on the mouthpiece. And naturally, those lower teeth could begin to cut into the inside of your lower lip.
4) Use an athletic mouth guard.
The bottom half of a standard plastic mouth guard [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article] such as the one used by football players and boxers can work wonders. Simply bring some water to a boil, drop the mouth guard in for 30 seconds, put the guard in cold water for a second, and then place it over your lower teeth, biting down so that the guard forms to fit you as closely as possible. One downside of this technique is the jolting sensation of plastic pulled fresh out of boiling water and melded to your lower teeth.
IMPORTANT: The directions I’ve given are obviously not very detailed. Before fitting your mouth guard, please read an article such as this one for more details. [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article]
5) Cushion the lower teeth using a denture pad.
Not an intuitive choice for those of us lucky enough to still have all of our original teeth in place, denture pads such as the one made by EZO can do a great job in shielding the lip from the lower teeth. Make sure to change denture pads regularly or else they get icky icky yuck yuck.
6) Make dental wax your friend.
This is one of the most popular solutions, especially for the junior high kids out there with the fresh set of braces. You can find some over here.
7) Grab some rolling papers, man.
Used mainly by free spirits looking to get an unfiltered rush of nicotine as well as by certain “cats” looking to partake in a “jazz cigarette” – a small sheet of cigarette paper folded over the lower lip has been known to spare many a saxophonist the Sore Lip Blues.
Zipping the Lip
So hopefully I’ve given some helpful suggestions for those suffering through this painful nasty problem.
August 28, 2012 @ 5:39 pm
Some of us have sharper teeths than others. I aked my dentist and he polished the edges of my both front teeths a little bit rounder.
August 28, 2012 @ 5:42 pm
Yeah. that’s a more aggressive approach, so I chose not to include it here. But it does seem to be a pretty common solution and doesn’t seem like it that big a deal.
August 29, 2012 @ 7:48 am
I don’t bite at all, but it happens that I play multiple hours a day and if there is new setup or lot of altissimo playing it sometimes was a problem.
But I wouldn’t recomending if you have problems while normal problem becaus this indicates a wrong embochure.
August 29, 2012 @ 8:03 am
Yes, I agree, just like with any medical procedure, it’s good to figure out the underlying issue before taking medical steps. In fact, I would imagine that rounding the top of the teeth could end up allowing you to continue the habit of playing with too much pressure from the jaws.
November 17, 2016 @ 2:59 pm
I’ve been playing the tenor sax for about 2 years now in band but in the past couple days by bottom lip has been getting tired in like 3 minutes into playing to the point where I can’t play a note and I have to constantly stop playing in the middle of our band playing. My lips have never gotten this tired this fast before. Do you have any ideas why?
August 28, 2012 @ 9:00 pm
c’mon, man, do you really think you’re revealing anything of importance here? your discussion is boring in the extreme. grow up and find something to write about that you’re an expert on and leave the saxophone out of it.
August 28, 2012 @ 9:38 pm
Dylan, I appreciate that you might have a strong opinion about my website and me personally, and I am all for honest, constructive feedback, and even spirited debate.
However, with the mean-spirited nature of comments such as yours, I take the same approach on my site as I would if you were in my own house.
That said, I bid you adieu to my website, your IP address has been blocked from commenting here. Enjoy spreading your contagious joy to the rest of the world, my friend.
August 29, 2012 @ 7:49 am
good choice! what an a**h****
December 8, 2020 @ 1:23 pm
Yes, he needed that.
December 8, 2020 @ 6:56 pm
Sorry about this mean person, Doron. I really benefited from this page. I’m an old trumpet player picking up reed instruments for the first time and was wondering if the lower lip pain was normal and/or avoidable. Since I don’t have a private lessons teacher and I’m not in high school with a band director, this was very insightful.
December 10, 2020 @ 11:06 am
Haha, thanks guys, that’s an ancient comment, but luckily, one of the only seriously trollish comments I’ve ever seen on the site, so I am grateful that the people (such as yourselves!) who participate in the conversation on this site are overwhelmingly cool and supportive. :) Thanks again!
June 6, 2022 @ 7:02 pm
Hey I looked at this page having sore lips after playing Bari Sax for 2 hours on Sunday and 3.5 on Monday😊. Good variety of tips!
Hope all is well in the Orenstein abode!
June 6, 2022 @ 7:03 pm
Hey I looked at this page having sore lips after playing Bari Sax for 2 hours on Sunday and 3.5 on Monday😊. Good variety of tips!
Hope all is well in the Orenstein abode!
June 6, 2022 @ 9:50 pm
Hey there Ruth – fancy meeting you here! :)
Wow, that’s a lot of bari sax playing, very cool! I recently dropped down from a 3 strength reed all the way down to a 2, which was weird, but I noticed that playing on softer reeds has really allowed me to relax a lot more and get to the more extreme registers of the horn without the anxiety of “is this note going to actually come out if I don’t blast it out?” But yeah, those are some serious hours you put in, so it’s only natural that there’s going to be that pain (unless you normally play for hours at a time).
Thanks for checking out the site, all is well here, I hope that it’s same for you guys, say hi to Mike and Anna for me!
September 9, 2013 @ 5:27 pm
I actually found this quite helpful, and interesting. As a brand new saxophonist, I was told that the inner lip can get quite sore, and I’m keen to avoid it.
September 9, 2013 @ 5:38 pm
That’s great to hear, Heather! Yeah, a sore lower lip can really rob you of tons of playing time, so whatever you can do to minimize it is not only going to make sax playing more enjoyable, but you’ll also have the opportunity to make more improvement on the instrument since your practice time won’t be cut short by pain. :)
February 4, 2019 @ 6:23 pm
Me, too. I play with a local band and just switched from tenor to alto. Geez, my mouth is sore!
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August 29, 2012 @ 2:22 am
Personally I’m a lip out player most of the time, but if I do roll the lip it is only a tiny bit.
One of my students came for their lesson yesterday and her dentist has given her a small strip of plastic that slides over the top edge of her teeth. not a full mouth guard but looks like something you could by in a DIY store.
regarding the delightful Dylan, I wonder if that was a spam comment? I get loads on my site that have to be deleted! Bless em.
August 29, 2012 @ 7:39 am
Yeah, it looks like dentists offer a good number of solutions here, from reshaping the top of the teeth to actually creating customized lip guards. For those having recurring problems, the dentist may very well be the way to go, so thanks for sharing that!
As for Dylan’s comment, it seems to be quite real, since if you click on his name above his comment, it goes to the website of an actual saxophonist. If it were a spam comment, that would be a pretty complex approach, especially without the usual link to Viagra and “be your own boss” ads. :)
August 29, 2012 @ 7:45 am
As a temporary measure a piece of folded clingfilm will give a bit of relief. My dentist made me a guard which is only a couple of centimeters long just to go over the middle bottom teeth as I have one crooked tooth which sticks up. However, my inner lip now seems to have toughened up and I no longer need it unless I have not played for a long time.
August 29, 2012 @ 7:48 am
Clingfilm sounds like it could be a good solution, as long as it stays in place I suppose. But in the end you too decided to enlist the help of a dentist. I’m beginning to see a trend here…
September 2, 2012 @ 2:54 am
I religously followed the art of saxophone playing for breathing & embouchure, I even had some minor dental work done,as I have crooked lower teeth. and i used dental wax. I was quite despondent and in some pain. What eventually worked was rolling the lower lip out just a tiny bit, and my tone is wider and more versatile.It is still a great book though!
September 2, 2012 @ 12:05 pm
Doesn’t surprise me at all Karl. In fact, George Garzone says that when new students come to him, the first thing he does is make sure that they’re playing with their lower lip rolled out. Glad that playing is easier for you now!
October 10, 2012 @ 1:37 am
If pinching the mouthpiece is the problem, practicing overtones will help you to relax your embrochure and preventing lower lip damage.
October 10, 2012 @ 8:53 pm
I totally agree. In fact, this is probably the most important thing to do, as it not only solves lower lip pain, but more importantly, improves your sound.
March 4, 2018 @ 10:21 am
I never understood this. I have what many people tell me is really beautiful tone, and I do overtones every single day as my first warmup. That said without significant embouchure pressure I can’t get the super high notes to sound. Anything above an alt A requires a lot of pressure. I play all my scales and exercises all the way up to alt F. Playing that high requires A LOT of pressure. A big part of that pressure comes from my lower jaw. I’ve been trying for over 35 years to play with a “relaxed” embouchure up top, and it has never worked. I use a dentist made plastic tooth bleaching tray to protect my lower lip due to my aggressive altissimo playing. Would be lost in pain without it. So the relaxed embouchure is a big mystery to me. After 35 years of playing sax, I’ve got some pretty intensely developed and strong musculature in my embouchure, how can that be developed from relaxing! The stronger these muscles get the more tonal control and beauty I have in my sound. I just don’t get it. How can one devolop embouchure muscles by relaxing!!?? Please explain!
August 19, 2022 @ 2:11 pm
I think the key to why a relaxed embouchure is consistent with strong control is because the control that you’re accomplishing with lower jaw pressure should be more so achieved by your voicing (tongue position, throat, air stream). your embouchure ideally being equally relaxed across the whole range of the horn
I’m dealing with the same issue right now tbh
August 19, 2022 @ 4:29 pm
Great point! I would also say that making sure you are taking deep breaths and making sure that you’re supplying enough air through the horn is an important piece of the puzzle.
March 19, 2013 @ 10:41 am
hey thanks. I tried rolling out my lip and that seemed to do the trick. Also, i was pinching the mouth piece a little. i might some more of this website :)
thanks so much,
March 19, 2013 @ 10:53 am
That’s awesome, Sam, so glad to hear it!
Sore lip ? | The M.S.E. Blog
April 22, 2013 @ 3:52 am
[…] 7 ways to keep your lower lip pain free […]
October 3, 2013 @ 3:24 pm
Do not ever play bass sax. Not even for half an hour.
August 5, 2015 @ 8:46 pm
I have found that the best way to use the use the EZO denture pads is to cut them in 4ths and only use 1 folded over your bottom teeth. My sax instructor has been using and recommending them to his students for years. Especially those with sharp teeth. One box of those lasts quite a while! As always though, ymmv.
October 1, 2015 @ 8:36 pm
I tried practicing today with my lower lip protruding. Where I almost never squeak in normal lip-gnashing embouchure, today I found myself squeaking anywhere above high G. I also found that my jaw got tired very quickly. Is this normal when transitioning to this embouchure?
April 13, 2016 @ 4:29 pm
Great tips, just what I was looking for ! Thanks a lot! Good job Doron and ignore that Dylan dude with the bad post, there’s always one >.<
April 13, 2016 @ 5:48 pm
Haha, yeah, that is probably the worst troll I’ve had to deal with on the site, which isn’t too terrible, so I consider myself very lucky to have such a cool bunch of supportive folks such as yourself checking out that site. So glad you found it helpful!
July 17, 2016 @ 10:39 am
White floral/florist tape works good as well for padding your lower teeth…
August 27, 2016 @ 10:31 am
I stop playing my alto saxophone because of pain in my bottom lip leading to blisters. What can I do about this? Is my embouchure wrong? I have no problems with my baritone sax.
December 8, 2016 @ 3:09 pm
what is the paper called that goes your lower lip. _____film, is the name of one but i cant seem to find it.
June 29, 2021 @ 11:49 pm
Are you thinking of cling film?
February 18, 2017 @ 1:27 am
Thanks for sharing such an informative article. I really feel very good to come on your post.
February 1, 2018 @ 12:03 am
Thank you for this article. I tried using the EZO pads and it’s worked like a charm. I made a template out of a credit card after measuring my teeth, and am able to get 5 from one pad. I wet a new one and then press it over my teeth. As I play, it molds itself neatly to my lower teeth. When I’m done playing I rinse it, and then soak it in Listerine. One of these home-made protectors lasts for a couple of weeks. No more sore lower lip. The nice thing about the EZO pads is that they’re thin, so that I didn’t have to change my embrouchure. Mouthguards would be too thick, and much more expensive. Thanks for the suggestion!
February 7, 2018 @ 12:08 pm
Unfortunately I think it is a hazard of the instrument – however, what you do between playing songs (if playing for extended times) can alleviate some of the discomfort in the short term – It’s not attractive, and hard to describe, but the ‘horse impersonation’ (do you get what I mean?! blowing air through lips to relax them!) can be a life saver if you are on your last mouth hold! It has saved the end of many a set over time!
August 14, 2018 @ 2:05 pm
My dentist customized a whitening tray for me that solved the lower lip issue. I have a dentist fiend, also a saxophonist, that did the same for himself.
August 22, 2018 @ 9:52 am
I have permanent teeth imprints on my lower lip. Not kidding.
October 13, 2018 @ 6:27 am
This is the first day I received my first saxophone and my first Reed instrument. I spent hours of finding the right embouchure. Now my lower lip is sore. I had to put some ice on it. That’s how I got here. But I learned a lot from this article and from the comments. Very useful. I think I have a sharp lower teeth.
December 18, 2019 @ 2:47 pm
A recurrent problem for me is the bruised lower lip; never seems to improve. so I am limited to 30 minutes practices. I have tried all balms and cortisone creams. Helps but does not cure. Very frustrating. (Iplay the clarinett)
December 26, 2019 @ 10:07 am
Yeah, it’s me. Bay LipEase has worked great and has helped my youngest son start working on overtones and altissimo production. Others may find it helpful to start out a practice session utilizing a “double lipped” embouchure which may pinpoint if they have been playing excessively tight. Just my 2 cents. Good to see life is treating you well.
March 4, 2020 @ 8:26 am
My top right 4th tooth presses onto the inside top part of my mouth next to it I put a paper tissue stuffed in there prevents contact
March 20, 2020 @ 3:55 am
Thank you so much for this article. As a fledgling jazz artist and classical player, I am constantly on the look out for advice from my experienced elders and this has been super helpful!
June 29, 2021 @ 11:46 pm
I just tried lip rolled forward, and it worked great for the lower notes! However, I see no way of playing high notes in this technique. When I try playing higher, it is necessary for me to tighten down on the reed, and lip rolled forward doesn’t allow me to do that (unless I am doing something wrong, which is highly probable since I am just learning sax on my own). Anyone else that has gone from lips on teeth to lip forward and can comment on this?
June 29, 2021 @ 11:52 pm
I was messing around with it some more, I think my lower jaw is just super weak!! I’m gonna have to give it some more tries and see what happens.
June 30, 2021 @ 6:30 am
Hello Oleg! Rolling the lower lip in and out can actually be helpful as an alternative to moving the jaw up and down. As it happens, the video promo for this David Liebman course actually includes a super-quick explanation of this concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMVD3bFLhNE
I hope that helps!
August 19, 2022 @ 2:15 pm
My understanding is that we should not use additional jaw pressure to reach the higher range of the instrument, but instead our voicing using tongue positioning. Mouthpiece exercises can be helpful for getting familiar with this as well as overtones
September 11, 2021 @ 2:30 pm
Keep this page going for new sax players please. I’m truly glad someone took the time to address this. My bottom lip is so sore after rehearsal. It’s affected the way I feel about playing altogether. I’ll use some of your suggestions. Feeling very hopeful.
From an alto sax fetus,
September 13, 2021 @ 6:16 am
Ha! “Alto sax fetus” – that’s one I’ve never heard before LOL.
A sore lower lip is common for just about anyone after enough playing, so I wouldn’t sweat it too much, especially during this “pre-natal” stage in your musical journey. Thanks so much for your support!
September 26, 2021 @ 8:57 pm
im in my school military band…and my teeth are extremely sharp. i play saprano sax btw…and this def helped me…thank you.
September 27, 2021 @ 7:06 am
So glad it helped, thanks for sharing that!
January 27, 2022 @ 8:30 am
I have more of a problem and am looking for suggestions my lower teeth and upper are mostly deteriorated thus it’s hard to make good sounds without some squeak are there teeth and lip guards that can help my aperture. Suggestions short of the 7000.00 dollar full dentures appreciated.
January 28, 2022 @ 6:35 am
Hey Jerry! What about purchasing some sort of custom-made mouthguard? I’ve seen some Google search results that mention this, or perhaps your dentist can recommend something?