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Discussion Starter #1
Hello, I've always checked out Sax on the Web for some excellent pointers in regards to my playing. Lately, I have been having some problems myself so I decided it was time to post my own question.

My equipment: SX90R Keilwerth Alto sax, TheoWanne Gaia 8 (reeds vary, currently using Vandoren JaZZ 2 1/2 strenth)

I've never been able to find a decent reed strength down the middle between too soft and too hard. I prefer to play on soft reeds. I've been in college for a little over a year now, and my saxophone professor is telling me that I need to go up in reed strength. I know there is some acclimation that needs to occur when doing this, but after 20 minutes of playing on a hard reed, my jaw (near the jaw hinge/jaw line) will tense up to the point where it becomes unbearable and I can no longer practice, which is discouraging and frustrating me. I am not pinching at all where my bottom lip comes in contact with my teeth; I am still very loose there and am not biting down hard on top of the mouthpiece; I rarely have any pressure from the top and bottom of the mouthpiece. The only way I can describe it is with the same sensation of squeezing your fist over time, your fist starts to cramp and can be very uncomfortable, even painful. That is the same sensation in my jaw-"area." I have talked to my teacher about it, and he said that it will take time to get used to, but it has been a little over 4 weeks now and I have not seen any improvement. I have gone from practicing 6 hours a day to maybe 2-3, which is quite frustrating. No matter how many breaks I give myself, the problem seems to come right back. I believe that it shouldn't hurt this much to play my instrument and something needs to change soon otherwise I will be putting permanent damage to my jawline before the semester is even over.

-So my question is: is this caused from having a harder reed? (I did not have this problem on a softer reed)
-Could it also be caused from playing on such an open mouthpiece in combination with having a harder reed?
-(As a reference, I have a Guardala copy that I also play on maybe once a week that is rather closed in comparison to the Gaia, and have absolutely no problem playing on that mouthpiece, which also has a softer reed set up)
- If there are any of you that suffer from this, is there any way to ease this feeling? I am a big believer in the idea that if you are in pain/uncomfortable while playing an instrument, you are playing it wrong, and I do not want this ingrained as a habit.
-If you guys think it is the combination of this mouthpiece and reed, would you think that a more closed mouthpiece with same/ a bit softer reed would suffice?

Thank you guys for your future replies and I am open to any suggestions any of you may have!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I'm currently waiting on my old private lessons teacher from before college to help me pick out a good mouthpiece (as he helped shape my embouchure before I had this predicament.) Unfortunately I have been unable to try out other mouthpieces. The Vandoren JazZ 2 1/2 is when it becomes uncomfortable. I was playing on Rico Jazz Selects 2 medium/2 hard before switching to the ZZ's.
 

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i believe my tip opening is anywhere between .84-.87 on the Gaia. Do you think changing pieces, along with testing out different reeds on the new MPC it will make that big of a difference in terms of pressure on my jaw? Or do you think there is a more underlying problem? Thank you for your post man
 

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Try this: Grab a pen and place it so that your top two front teeth and botton two front teeth grasp it. Now move your bottom jaw forward so you have a jaw joint that does not have the pressures balanced. Bite down slightly harder so you feel tension or discomfort.

If that is the discomfort you feel playing alto, it suggests that your jaw joint is not aligned when you put equal pressure between the top and bottom lips or teeth with your mouthpiece. It is not aligned possibly because of teeth in wrong position, so a dentist would advise you, or your muscles are at a threshold and are putting pressure on jaw joint with the harder reed, or possibly both.

I have the symptoms you describe, but I also know it could be any number of factors causing it. From injury to just not your optimal
setup. With me, after all the problems were ironed out, I still would not be able to play my best on an 87 opening with a 3 reed, on a meyer type mouthpiece. That's just how I am built.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
That's exactly the feeling I get while playing! I feel like in order to avoid putting pressure on the bottom teeth and pinching the reed vibrations (as well as causing damage to the bottom lip) is to put more forward pressure on the reed, by very slightly jutting my jaw out. It's the only way I can get a quality sound out of the mpc, and even then it isn't that great of a sound. It sounds very tense and forced. I just can't relax or get a relaxed sound with this kind of problem. By the way, thank you everyone for all of your input. It is all greatly valued.
 

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Sounds like an anatomical problem the way it is being expressed, but might simply be cramping from over-use. Either way, you have to do something about it or stick with the softer reeds. Sometimes teachers advise based on what should be done in the general sense without regard to an individuals needs or abilities.
You may have noticed that some reeds in a box are stiffer and some are softer. What you might try is to concentrate on using the harder ones in a box of your customary #2 1/2 reeds. Play them for five minutes each during practice, then stretch your embouchure muscles by yawning or simulating a yawn, extending the jaw forward. Continue doing this and see if you can extend your playing time with the harder 2 1/2 reeds. I think you're just pushing too hard and need to try a more extended acclimation period.
Another angle is the mouthpiece shape; sometimes the smaller dimensions of a metal piece work better for some players which could explain why you have no trouble with the Guardala copy. It could be as simple as finding a hard rubber piece of a smaller shape with a different beak angle. Bottom line, you have to play what you can play at least until you either get used to a harder set-up, change mouthpieces or fix any anatomical problem you might have.
 

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It is possible to play alto with small tip opening mouthpieces with 2.5 reeds with plenty of expression and tone that resonates. You may also want to try wider tip openings with your 2.5 reed and see what happens. Balance can come in two different setups on same horn as well. I personally don't change my reed strengths, I find the mouthpiece and tip opening that works best for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Constantly on my breaks (now I'm having to give myself breaks after like 6-10 minutes of playing, before I could go like 30-40 minutes before I would give myself a mental break or just a walk around the music building) I will simulate moving my jaw around slowly in a yawning fashion and move it forward or backward. I won't pick up the horn until I feel the tension mostly gone in my jaw (and then its usually back within 5 minutes.) It doesn't really ever go away until a couple hours after I'm done practicing. I also heat my jaw with like those Walgreens heat retention beads. It's just extremely frustrating. Thank you all for your input by the way, its appreciated a ton. I will be going out and trying out different mouthpieces with a more closed opening, and testing reed strengths from there.
 

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My teeth are pushed in slightly, the whole set of teeth. They grew that way. The result is that to play the saxophone, I jut my lower law forward and the upper and lower teeth are not aligned. The jaw joint is aligned, and I can play, but only on 2.5 to 3 strength reeds on alto. Facial muscles help out and become tired. They fail above a 3 reed. My solution is to use a small piece of a sports mouth guard, place it once I have molded it, on my upper two teeth, so it effectively extends my front teeth forward, so my lower jaw front teeth can balance against it, and align the stress forces between the upper and lower teeth AND the two jaw joints. I also had my dentist even up the two bottom front teeth. It made a big difference in my case. As well, the tongue is shortened slightly and bunched up. This is because the teeth pushed in are crowding it. Another way to look at it, is to say my tongue is too big for the space it is allowed to occupy. The height of the beak and the angle of the beak has an enormous effect on balancing out the jaw joints, facial muscles, and teeth alignment WITH the molded plastic piece. I found a hockey guard strap that connects to the bite guard the right thickness to mold. A wooden spoon can help with the molding, as the one have is rounded to bite down perfectly.

I am under the care of a dentist that treats professional saxophone players. Nothing was done without his ok. He measured my jaw in relation to my teeth, and quickly figured out why I was having all the problems you listed.

As well, regarding breathing, I learnt how to play with tension and that resulted in breathing from the upper chest. With the plastic molded piece, I can blow from all areas of my lungs, but lower lung and mid lung is best for resonance and tone. It is the difference between blowing cool air and hot air. Misaligned jaw/teeth ment blowing cool air from the upper lung, with a bunched up tongue.
 
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