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Saxophone/cheeks puffing out while playing sax

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Question
My 16 yr old has been playing alto sax since 5th grade and has recently started puffing out his cheeks when he plays. I noticed that it started last year when he played a bari sax for the show choir. He said that it was because he had to play very loudly most of the time. Now I have noticed that he is also doing it on his alto. When I commented on it to him, he said that it was just when he plays more loudly and that there is nothing wrong with doing so. I have always heard that puffing cheeks is not good and is a sign of poor embouchure. Is this a problem that he should work on stopping? Can it affect his tone? Or is it not a problem,like he says?

Thanks.

Answer
Hi Pam - Great question!  While there may be more than one way to 'skin a cat', puffing the cheeks is generally relegated to beginning students who in time, develop enough muscle tone in their embouchure to make the necessary corrections.

Puffing the cheeks usually leads to a thin tone quality and flat pitch (especially in the upper register). I currently have a young student battling this syndrome - I simply remind him at each lesson to "keep those corners back" or "smile a little more" and in my experience with enough coaxing and patience, students are usually able to work it out in time. (By the way - it puffing the cheeks does not equal volume - volume comes from filling your tank (tummy and lungs) with air to create a solid support system for the correct embouchure.)

I've taught some great players who were 'puffy' as beginners.  Steve Lehman is a noted avant-garde composer and sax player who I started about a 100 years ago lol.

(http://www.stevelehman.com/) He used to puff his cheeks a bit and often took several seconds to set his embouchure... after each breath.  He's plays beautifully now - so it can be fixed!

May I suggest visiting www.dlpmusicmusicprogram.com and creating a FREE Theory membership for your son. Then go to the 'resources' tab and look at the videos for alto saxophone.  You may even see me in a few lol.  Here is a direct link to the sax page:

http://springpad.com/#!/dlpmusicprogram/explore/altosax/blocks

Good luck and keep me posted  - I hope your son continues to play and enjoy the horn!

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Eugene Cantera

Expertise

I have been a music educator for over 25 years and have taught on many levels from young children and school agers on through to college level, professional players and senior citizens. My main areas of expertise are saxophone(s) though I have taught many instruments including, guitar, bass, piano, oboe and drums to name a few. I have also done research on horns both vintage and new.

Experience

I have been in music education for 25 years and I have written and published in the subject of professional music education.

Publications
The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Business Journal, Marketing and Higher Education Newsletter.

Education/Credentials
Bachelor of Music Education, Hartt School of Music - The University of Hartford.

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