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Hi Everyone,
I'm a junior in high school and I've been playing alto for three years. I didn't notice it until my band director pointed it out, but I puff out my cheeks while I play. He told me it was bad and to do long tones to fix it. I've been doing the long tones for about a month, at least 10min. a day.
My question is whether puffing cheeks is really that bad and how can I help speed up the process of getting rid of them in conjunction with my long tones? I feel like they're hurting my tone because there are days when I'm fine and I sound much better. I play a V16 A5 Medium on the school's Bundy II, if that makes a difference.


Also, I double as an oboe player, which is where i think it comes from.
 

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Play your long tones looking into a mirror... As a junior in high school you should have the stamina (patience) to play more than 10 minute long tone blows... play one each cycle for each chromatic note... Puffing out your cheeks can lead to the bad habit of using your cheek muscles to assist embouchure control, not the best method!
 

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Ten minutes is indeed not practicing. That's barely warming up. I'm not sure how practicing long tones is supposed to help though unless he gave you some specific tips on what kind of embouchure you should be practicing in place of the one that allows you to puff your cheeks. You may hear a lot of differing opinions about whether or not puffing your cheeks is really such a bad thing...but that usually only applies way down the road, after you've learned how to play with a more proper embouchure. I seriously doubt at the junior high school level that you can get a very good sound while puffing your cheeks. You may THINK it's a good sound...but you'd probably be wrong. There's no way you can build the kind of embouchure control you need while puffing your cheeks this early in your development.

I'm also not sure why it would come from playing oboe. I never played oboe as a serious endeavor, but I did play it for a while as a double when I was in an Army Band. Puffing your cheeks on oboe is no more appropriate than it is on saxophone.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I'm also not sure why it would come from playing oboe. I never played oboe as a serious endeavor said:
I thought so too, but it's just a habit I noticed that creeps up on me when I get tired on oboe. It's not a major puffing on either, but it's noticeable.
 

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I thought so too, but it's just a habit I noticed that creeps up on me when I get tired on oboe. It's not a major puffing on either, but it's noticeable.
"No pain - No gain"

It's when you start getting tired that you have to concentrate on pushing past the pain while maintaining a proper embouchure. When you can no longer maintain a good embouchure, it's time to stop and rest. Continuing on after you've lost the ability to play with the right embouchure only reinforces the bad habit of reverting to a bad embouchure. You should be able to play longer and longer without tiring as your embouchure develops...but it's important to concentrate on NOT compromising your embouchure when you get tired.
 

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Puffing the cheeks is usually an indication that the muscles in the corners of the mouth have relaxed, hence the common advice not to puff the cheeks. Puffing the cheeks itself is not a bad thing per se but an indication that there are other problems with the embouchure. There is however a big difference between keeping the corners firm and filling the oral cavity with pressurized air which makes the part of the cheeks up by the cheekbone expand outward. When I was young I took a lesson from Fred Hemke who taught that it should feel like you have two golf balls of air at the top of your cheeks.
 

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I'm a junior in high school and I've been playing alto for three years. I didn't notice it until my band director pointed it out, but I puff out my cheeks while I play. He told me it was bad and to do long tones to fix it.
Mine would hold a needle next to your cheek and tell you to continue playing. Often I think of her when I see a picture of me playing that catches a glimmer of a puffed cheek. Yeah, I can imagine her looking up at me now and feverously reaching for that sewing kit...
 

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Long tones are the best way to practice anything related to tone production. Doing them in a mirror is a good idea. 10 minutes a day is fine for long tones as long as you do them every day, and with focus. Stop yourself, reset your embouchure and start again as soon as you see your cheeks start to puff. I bet the habit disappears in a week of FOCUSED practice on this issue.

I agree with jbtsax that the puffing cheeks won't necessarily change your sound, but they will either take away some control from your embouchure or indicate that the control is not there at all. Also, puffing your cheeks while playing habitually will make them stretch out eventually. Look at pics of Dizzy Gillespie!
Mine would hold a needle next to your cheek and tell you to continue playing. Often I think of her when I see a picture of me playing that catches a glimmer of a puffed cheek. Yeah, I can imagine her looking up at me now and feverously reaching for that sewing kit...
That's such a great idea! Too bad it would get me fired or thrown in jail... Being 100% honest, I wish I could do that.
 

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Also, puffing your cheeks while playing habitually will make them stretch out eventually. Look at pics of Dizzy Gillespie!

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I don't know about puffing cheeks but my neck puffs out like a bullfrog when I play. It's not particularly attractive but I have not found a way to stop it. I asked my wife if she wanted to learn some sax recently and she said, "Hell no! It makes your neck saggy."

Yikes!
 

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I don't know about puffing cheeks but my neck puffs out like a bullfrog when I play.
I've always thought that was a good thing...an open, relaxed throat. Seems like a much more effective way of supporting a big, full sound than using the cheeks. I can't say from any real personal experience whether it actually helps the sound as much as it appears that it might...but almost everyone I've seen who plays with a bulging neck seems to have a nice fully supported sound. The narrower the throat, the narrower the sound?
 

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I don't think that puffing cheeks at the early stages of learning is a good idea but it can come handy in later more experienced playing and not so much for its maintaining or generating air pressure (the maintaing pressure is done in circular breathing if you want to do that) but as a way to change one's oral cavity volume and achieving a different sound while , for example, subtoning (it would be a different effect for each player) . Expanding the throat is a very common thing to see and many good players achieve serious large volumes like that. I don't.
 

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Beginners and experienced players puff their cheeks out in different ways.
A beginner fills the cheeks with air and the facial muscles are largely inactive - which is what allows the checks to bulge in the first place.
When an experienced player does it it's more controlled.
If you put your finger in your mouth and seal your lips around it and then puff out your cheeks like you were blowing up a balloon, you'll feel that the cheeks are stretched more or less equally all over.
If you then form an embouchure and repeat the test you should find that while the sides of the cheeks feel relaxed, the area around the cheekbones is rather more controlled.

Regards,
 

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Great explanation Steve! :)
 
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