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Hi all,

This is my first time posting, although I've thought about it for a long time. I haven't been able to find a thread with exactly the same problem as mine, but apologies if this is repetitive of another post.

I have jaw pain while I play my tenor sax. It's more of a buildup of pressure over time while I'm playing a single note that occurs right at the joint of my jaw. When I start a new note it goes away and then starts as I sustain the note. It's most noticeable during long tones, and is present for all notes but seems to build up faster in the high notes until there's so much pressure I feel like my head will burst. I've noticed that as soon as I start blowing a note, I jut my lower jaw out and feel this as a bulging in the joint. When I bring the lower jaw back, like for pitch bending, the pain goes away, but the note of course goes flat.

When you all play, does your lower jaw jut out (which I can feel easiest by placing my hand on my jaw joint before and during playing)? Is it an issue with an incorrect embouchure or perhaps something anatomical?

Some background on me: I've been playing tenor seriously for about 4 years (in college right now). I've had this issue before but it hasn't ever stuck around this consistently. My setup: Cannonball big bell stone series, otto link 7*, d'addario jazz select 3M. I switched from an 8* to 7* last summer, and the problem started a few months after that and hasn't stopped since.

I greatly appreciate any help! This issue is making it difficult for me to enjoy practicing.
 

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I have jaw pain while I play my tenor sax. It's more of a buildup of pressure over time while I'm playing a single note that occurs right at the joint of my jaw. When I start a new note it goes away and then starts as I sustain the note. It's most noticeable during long tones, and is present for all notes but seems to build up faster in the high notes until there's so much pressure I feel like my head will burst. I've noticed that as soon as I start blowing a note, I jut my lower jaw out and feel this as a bulging in the joint.
Sounds like a good start toward diagnosing the matter. Good observation.

When I bring the lower jaw back, like for pitch bending, the pain goes away, but the note of course goes flat.
The obvious answer from my perspective is "Tune your horn using a correct embouchure."

When you all play, does your lower jaw jut out (which I can feel easiest by placing my hand on my jaw joint before and during playing)?
Only for effect - not for a normal note.

Some background on me: I've been playing tenor seriously for about 4 years (in college right now). I've had this issue before but it hasn't ever stuck around this consistently. My setup: Cannonball big bell stone series, otto link 7*, d'addario jazz select 3M. I switched from an 8* to 7* last summer, and the problem started a few months after that and hasn't stopped since.
Have you ever had a lesson from a saxophone teacher? It sounds like you are compensating for something that shouldn't be an issue. Hopefully you've caught it before you cause permanent harm to your jaw joint.

If you are resolute about not taking lessons, at least view the YouTube video by Jerry Bergonzi regarding "The No-Embouchure Embouchure."
 

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Sounds like some kind of dental or TMJ situation. Definitely not normal. I had never noticed before but I jut my jaw out when playing. It's a function of the 'loose' and 'extended lower lip' embouchure for me, but there's never been any jaw pain associated with it. There will be muscular pain or 'burn' when playing long tones or long notes in the lower register, but I feel like this is not what you mean. If that happens, just stop momentarily and with a yawning motion while pulling the jaw down and back, stretch the embouchure muscles and feel the blood returning. This enables a quick return to playing..
 

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Maybe you might be using too much mandibular pressure instead of using your lower lip and face muscles. If you're in college for music, talk to your sax teacher about it. It's really hard to diagnose what is causing the problem, even in person.
Your sax might be sitting too low or your head position could be slightly off. You don't need to jut out your jaw, if that is causing the problem.
It will take some trial and error on your part to figure out a way to play without pain. Once you get it right, then you have to train the muscles to work that way easily and with stamina.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you everyone for your responses...

Dr G: Tuning differently for a new jaw position does work for mid-range, but when I bring my jaw back to what alleviates the pain and feels "normal" (i.e. no bulging at the joint) it seems to almost close off my airstream for higher notes so that they don't speak, and then lower notes (below G) wobble between the note and the overtone above. (a similar issue I have when trying to subtone)

1saxman: Yeah, it's definitely more of a pressure/tension sensation than burning. But it's nice to know someone else juts their jaw out...even though it hurts for me it feels much more natural than bringing it back!

Saxland: No, going back to my 8* I have the same issue. Although it doesn't seem to be as intense for whatever reason.

forreals: I'm not actually going to college for music, which is why I haven't been able to check with a teacher or anything...I was taking online lessons with someone around when this all started; he suggested I take in more or less mouthpiece, but that didn't really do the trick. I've been putting off starting lessons again until I could get better on my own but it looks like I may need to just give up this stubbornness!

Incidentally, I kind of play with the mouthpiece in my mouth at slightly less than a 90 degree angle, for a couple reasons: I started on clarinet and I guess I never got out of that habit, and since I'm on the smaller side, when I stand I rest the horn on my leg rather than holding it up with my hand. Not sure if that may be a factor.

I know it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on when I play when all you have are my vague descriptions to go on, but thanks for giving me some ideas to start with!
 

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I recommend using a neck strap or harness and start there. Get into a traditional position. Your chin should be parallel to the floor when you play. As for embouchure, the bottom lip should be just behind the front teeth, like pronouncing the letter "V". This all worked for my students quite well. Good luck!
 

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Incidentally, I kind of play with the mouthpiece in my mouth at slightly less than a 90 degree angle, for a couple reasons: I started on clarinet and I guess I never got out of that habit, and since I'm on the smaller side, when I stand I rest the horn on my leg rather than holding it up with my hand. Not sure if that may be a factor.
Don't hold up the horn with your thumb, the right thumb should be pushing forward. The weight of the horn is on the strap.

Get some one-on-one instruction with a saxophone teacher.
 

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Try using a harness instead of just a neck strap. Also try sitting on a stool when you play - it can make holding the sax easier.
Best advice is to go to a sax teacher - he may see what is wrong right away.
An alternative is to post a video of yourself playing, and somebody here might be able to help you.
 

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If you are coming from clarinet you are probably using to tight of an embouchure and the wrong angle. It's not a clarinet. The mouthpiece should come out pretty much at 90 degrees and not angled down like clarinet. Corners of the mouth should be pulled in, no bunching of the chin and not to much lower lip over the teeth. Trying taking your top teeth off the mouthpiece and just blowing a low F. It should feel something like that. It's kind of more round than clarinet. Try to get a qualified teacher that can correct your embouchure in person. Tell them that's what you want and see what they say because a lot of people can't teach that to well. Playing with pain is no fun and unnecessary.
 
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