Standing Straight and Sounding Great

There’s a lot to be said for sitting up straight and walking tall. Indeed, there’s something about proper posture that exudes health and confidence. Hell, a good posture will even make you look thinner (not that any of us need to look thinner, of course, just sayin’).

For us who play a wind instrument, the habit of good, proper posture pays – and pays handsomely. As I mentioned in my article, 8 Tips for an Open Throat and Bigger Sound, the path between the diaphragm and the bell of the horn must be as unencumbered as possible. And you can bet your bottom Bb that a curvature in the airstream is going to do nothing but lousy for your sound.

In fact, don’t take my word for it, but see for yourself. Listen to and feel the sound you get when you play slouched down low. Now try playing sitting or standing up straight. Big difference.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure that you’re using the posture principle to the best effect.

The Tips

1. Stand or sit with your back straight.

Yeah, I know, I pretty much already said this, but it had to make the list since it’s the most important. Just imagine how you’d react if you were a little one and your mother sternly admonished you, “Sit up straight, Junior!” If you were a good little girl or boy, you’d snap into perfect posture mode. So take heed of Mother’s stern words of warning, since nobody likes a slouch!

2. Keep your neck straight.

You want to be looking straight ahead and not to the left or the right, left and up, right and down, and so on and so on. Twisting your air stream is going to do nothing but weaken your sound. So resist the temptation to point your neck anywhere other than straight ahead even if it looks cooler.

3. Make sure that the neck strap is at the right level.

Standing with that great posture and looking straight ahead, you want to make sure that the neckstrap is supporting the saxophone so that the mouthpiece naturally falls right under your top teeth. If the mouthpiece is jutting out into the chin or just under the nose, then it’s time to adjust your strap.

4. Make sure that you’re using the right neck strap for you.

There are all sorts of neck straps. You’ve got elastic straps that give a little bit of leeway, to stiff straps that stay put, and sturdy harnesses that offer ultra-steady support. The point is to try out a few different straps and find the one that does that best job of supporting your horn and helping you to keep you neck and back straight as straight can be.

5. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed.

Sometimes in our efforts to stand up straight, we can find our shoulders popping up towards our ears. While it’s good to sit or stand with our shoulders back, the shoulders should also feel relaxed. In fact, good posture is actually relaxing, as it lets you lower all of your muscles into their natural position. So remember to keep loose.

6. Practice playing in front of a mirror.

Being inside of our bodies, it can be hard to tell how we’re playing without some sort of external perspective. The only way we can know for sure that our posture is right is to see it in action for ourselves. So make sure you like what you see in the mirror.

7. Incorporate standing and sitting into your practice sessions.

Regardless of whether or not all of your public performances only involve standing or sitting exclusively, playing in a different position than you normally would is a good way to get yourself thinking about proper posture in new ways that will help you all around. Plus, you want to be prepared to sit, stand, and sound your best so that you’re ready for bebop or Basie.

8. Get in the habit of checking in with yourself to make sure that your posture is on-point.

Until proper posture is a solid fixture in your musical consciousness, you may want to stick a post-it note on your music stand to keep reminded to keep everything lined up. It’s easy to slide back into old habits, so learn to keep your eye out for sound-stifling slouching.

9. Play in the position that feels most natural.

We’re talking about music here, so that means there are really no hard-and-fast rules. While 99% of us will sound better playing with proper posture, some of us may find that playing off to a wacky angle with our mouthpiece twisted to the left gets us right into that zone we need to be in. And I’d be lying if I said that all of the greats played standing up completely straight. While you may be one of the small percentage of folks for whom playing with questionable posture works best, it’s still important to at least try playing on the “straight and narrow” and experience the results for yourself.

Well, duh!

I’ll admit that much of what I’m saying here may be obvious to many of you – especially the more advanced players. But if nothing else, this should serve as a little reminder to stay aware of this oft forgotten facet of great playing, since it’s one of those easy things you can do to get yourself instantly sounding better.

photo by Bryan Maleszyk