Saxophone slings & throat constriction

Recently I bought a saxophone sling (neck strap) that had two apparent advantages over my old ones, as explained here:

Major nerves and the blood supply for the brain run through the cervical vertebrae. With the XXX Sax-Strap this area of the neck remains open while the weight and pressure are distributed to the muscles of the left and right sides of the neck.
Carotid Artery
Conventional slings can cause unpleasant pressure on the right and left sides of the neck, compromising the carotid arteries. A spacer just above the sling-length adjuster reduces this.

ceb sling.png

Now, that second feature of the XXX Sax-Strap is very useful, but the problem with the neck cushion design is that the sling has to stay completely symmetrical. My playing position skews it slightly, causing sideways pressure on the neck vertebrae from the RH cushion. After two rehearsals the consequent pain stopped me playing for a couple of days.

One solution is to stick with a conventional neck strap and use a spacer, such as Andy Scott’s Libero, which retails for £75, about twice the cost of the strap itself. So, here’s my solution, costing £1 in materials, taking 15 mins to construct, and weighing in at 1oz (28 grms):

With spare parts and tools from a child’s construction kit, in this case Meccano, here is what I used for my alto sax:



This simple version with just 2 nuts and bolts worked fine, but here’s a refinement using a rubber band around the two nuts to ease the gaps for your strap, while protecting it from chafing against the nut:


Finally, to guard against slippage once the spacer is positioned comfortably, two nuts may be added at the ends. Here I’ve added a central nut for bracing, plus stopper bolts.



Qigong, Posture & Playing the Saxophone

Any reputable guide to playing the saxophone or similar instruments will mention the importance of posture, but this topic is often passed over as general introduction, rather than an essential part of daily reflection in practice, rehearsal and performance.

Given Qigong’s repeated emphasis on posture and body-awareness, as part of physical and emotional resilience training, we might compare and contrast advice in these two arenas.

Firstly, before picking up the saxophone, study the featured image above, then practise these Four Qigong Exercises, noting the importance of correct breathing, a major related topic we’ll return to in the next blog of this series. Don’t expect to master these exercises, just familiarise yourself with them, for now.

Next, consider John Harle’s advice on posture in his recent and highly-acclaimed book The Saxophone (Faber Music 2017) pp.20-21:

‘Playing the saxophone requires your body to be alert and flexible.’

Before picking up the saxophone …
‘Imagine a triangle with the highest point at the top of your head (at the back) with two lower points at the bony ends of the shoulders. Make [this triangle] as big as possible, without straining upwards or downwards.’

Harle refers to this as the ‘Dynamic Triangle’.

‘Your shoulders [should] come down to a natural position of rest, your neck naturally lengthens and you head moves up and forward. Your back has straightened without feeling restricted or held.’

Now pick up the saxophone and follow Harle’s further advice:har

You will need to practise and reflect upon these two approaches to posture (Qigong and Harle) to understand what helpful compatibilities present themselves. For example, is Harle’s instruction to move your weight forward when standing helped or hindered by Qigong and Tai Chi’s slightly bent knees?

‘Find your feet!’

In both cases, the development of body-awareness and relaxation is essential, which will take time, care and concentration.

Your feedback is welcome.