Which wind instruments are a problem with braces? Please make a list showing the relative difficulties.

Clarification: I am also interested in what most people would consider minor inconveniences. My 12yo has Tourette Syndrome and some sensory issues which set off some Tourette symptoms. He has a mild orthodontic problem, and my bank account has a major problem (older son in college). There are so many factors to consider when helping this child choose next year's band instrument, and deciding whether and when to get braces.

Additional background info: He likes the idea of braces in theory; he hasn't met an instrument he didn't want to play, and he picks them up quickly and does very well with all instruments he chooses to study. He has a natural affinity for jazz, but likes all styles of music.

Wind instruments played so far: 4th grade, trombone; 5th grade, bassoon; 6th grade, bari, sax and halfway through, added tenor sax. He doesn't want to go back to bassoon, but he still picks up his trombone sometimes, and he is undecided about continuing with bari/tenor.

So, I want to understand better how braces impact the playing of a wind instrument.


Speaking purely from personal experience, braces are an annoyance but not a problem. I played the clarinet thru 3 years' worth of old-fashioned metal-band&wire braces, with some lip shredding, some applications of dental wax, and so on. Abrasion on internal (mouth) surfaces is likely with any instrument.

In the woodwind family, since only single-reeds require direct tooth pressure on the mouthpiece/reed, flautists and double-reed players will not have to deal with tooth pain related to each tightening/adjustment of the braces. Obviously you can't play with external headgear but AFAIK those are almost never used any more.

Brass instrument players will find it quite advisable to cover the front teeth's braces with wax or some such to preserve their lips. This is highly personal and only experimentation will tell you what your best approach is.

I would recommend removing retainers, invisalign, and the like while playing any wind instrument because these items change the air cavity inside your mouth, and that isn't good :-) .

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    As a trumpet player, I had the somewhat unique experience of letting my embrochure atrophy, then getting braces, then trying to play again after getting the braces off again. I think I tried to play WITH braces exactly twice, and it was so unnatural-feeling that I couldn't get a satisfactory embrochure at all. It is like starting from scratch. When I got the braces off and started to play again, it was much worse than before getting them on (even with the atrophied embrochure at the time). After playing 2yr free, I feel 3 years behind where I was when I stopped playing in the first place. – Darren Ringer May 25 '15 at 3:34
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    To elaborate, the mental aspect of playing is tied very intricately with the physical aspect, and if you have highly developed neuromuscular structures in place already then braces will basically move them around to all the wrong places. What were once good habits are now bad habits, and the new good habits feel like what was once bad. As others have said, many people improve long-term after braces, so it's probably a matter of what your level is beforehand (I was already semi-professional) and what structures and habits you already had. – Darren Ringer May 25 '15 at 3:35
  • I'm wondering, for example, whether single reed woodwind is commonly be less vulnerable than brass to the effect of getting braces. – aparente001 May 26 '15 at 4:00
  • @aparente001 I think so, but I can ask a few clarinet and sax friends today at school to make sure. Percussion is a safe bet for sure though; I'm not a true percussionist, but I taught myself drum set for fun and my playing wasn't affected at all by my braces. :) – ksoo May 26 '15 at 13:16
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    @AsianSquirrel there is no space in the percussion section at his school. The teacher won't let him switch to percussion. – aparente001 May 26 '15 at 13:19

Just some supplementary comments: The effects of braces on playing vary from person to person, based on how they play, their facial structure, and how much they're willing to work to adjust to braces and then readjust after they get them off.

I play the French horn and I was totally fine until I got braces in seventh grade. Now, at the tail end of my senior year, I'm still working on correcting bad habits I picked up while trying to figure out how to play with braces, and it is very frustrating. I highly recommend having a private lesson teacher supervise and guide any wind players who get braces. I take private lessons from an incredible instructor and he has been able to help many other people to continue to play and to play well, with and without braces.

Additionally, when I was in middle school, there was a trumpet player whose playing actually improved drastically after he got braces.

It really all depends on the person.

Also, I think there are now different kinds of braces. One option might be the type that affix to the back of the teeth. For brassplayers, the main issue is usually the protrusion of the braces on the front top teeth. However, if there is something attached to the back of one's teeth, one's articulation (tonguing) could be affected. Again, I highly recommend consulting (and signing up with) a private instructor if at all possible. Contact a local school that has a band program, or any local band or full orchestra organizations in your area for recommendations. (It's very important to find a good teacher.)

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    My wallet can't handle more private lessons right now. This kid is a dancer, violist and pianist, and it gets expensive! – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 21:27
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    @aparente001 Just a side note, at some point it can be good to focus on one or two hobbies max, and really try to get into the depth of that art, as opposed to just touching the surface of many different areas. During my childhood I always had around 5 regular activities in addition to school and family. Now I have two (one sports, one music) and I find it much more satisfying, as the practice time I spend on both allows me to be much better than I ever was before. – Rafael Emshoff May 29 '15 at 12:17
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    @RafaelCichocki there is something in what you say! Our music room currently has a hand-me-down drum set, a trombone, a bari sax, a tenor sax, a piano, a viola, a practice pad, and a djembe. I sometimes feel like Superman's mother. This kid really thrives on new things. See my self-answer about the sax family solution. – aparente001 May 31 '15 at 3:43
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    All the answers provided were helpful. "For brassplayers, the main issue is usually the protrusion of the braces on the front top teeth" was one of the most helpful sentences." – aparente001 May 31 '15 at 13:59

Today I was able to meet with my son's band teacher. He said that with a single reed instrument, one can buy a special foam thing to cover the lower braces, and that by playing every day for about 10 days, one will adjust pretty quickly to having the braces. He said single reed would be easier than brass. So we decided to stick with the sax family.

One nice thing about the sax family is that my son, who thrives on new challenges, will be able to add another member of the family when he feels that he needs a new challenge, but much of what he's already done will transfer over to the sibling.

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