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I'm a saxophone player who recently signed up for a community concert band at a local college, but it's been about 7-8 months since I played with any regularity, and that wasn't much more than once a week. The band I've signed up for meets once a week for 3 hours, and I'm concerned about my ability to last through the entire time with an intact embouchure (I tended to lose my chops 90-100 minutes into the 2 hour rehearsals with my last group.)

Obviously, the best way to improve my strength and endurance in this respect is to practice regularly. However, I live in an apartment building and I'm hesitant to practice in my place for fear of getting noise complaints. I should find a means of practicing with some regularity anyway, but in the meantime: does anyone know of any good exercises to improve embouchure strength that don't involve making as much noise as regular practice?

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Breath control, breath control, breath control! I recall one of the top University Marching Band directors talking to us (Midwestern Music & Art Camp circa 1970 :-) ) about his "aha" moment. He was a trumpeter & got a summer job (high school or college age for him) with a circus orchestra. First couple performances, his embouchure collapsed half-way thru and he staggered to the endline w/ sore lips. Then one night he played the whole show without any lip strain or pain! But, in his words, when he tried to stand up, "I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut by a horse." That's when he learned breath control.

As to the noise problem-- nothing you can do other than mutes (yes, there are sax mutes!), a practice cube, or playing under a couple blankets arranged like a tent

EDIT: to expand on breath control as it applies here.

I once had a teacher (clarinet) who would poke me in the navel with a pencil while I was playing. In theory, if I had my diaphram muscles properly set, there'd be no change in my sound. Took a while :-) . In addition to this, learn to breathe "deep," inhaling from the lowest part of the abdomen while trying not to allow your shoulders to move. It's pretty much the opposite of what one typically does when "gasping for breath" during extreme athletics. That, along with learning to 'focus' the airstream (admittely a psychological concept that's not really related to the airflow at the mouthpiece), will let you maintain a continuous pressure head and limit excess airflow. That's about the best I can do in print :-( .

  • Can you expand on "breath control" at all? Some quick googling turned up mostly stuff aimed at vocalists, and it sounds like learning proper breathing technique (breathing from your diaphragm, not your chest) and doing some exercises to focus your air stream, which I'm familiar with, but will admit I haven't done in a while. Is there anything else that I'm missing there, or any particularly good resources I should check out? – ptfreak Jan 9 '15 at 19:20
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An exercise I've been given by my trumpet teacher that is specifically for strengthening lip muscles is to put a pencil in your mouth and attempt to hold it horizontally using only your lips.

It is quite difficult at first but makes no noise, requires little equipment and can be done while doing something else.

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While Carl's suggestions seem to be more on realistic, another option you have is cardio! Playing a horned instrument requires a healthy heart and lungs, but also a strong diaphragm like you mentioned. Cardiovascular exercise has been known to increase lung capacity and efficiency.

Additionally, this can be done anywhere without bothering people. 20 minutes, 3-4 days a week would be enough.

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