Have you ever arrived at a point in your playing where your embouchure muscles were too sore to hold a steady tone? For example, have you ever felt any of the following?
- Your embouchure muscles gave out while playing
- It was too painful to go on
- Air started leaking out of your mouth because of fatigue
- Extreme soreness after a practice session
- You can’t play the next day because you’re still sore
The good news is this: you’re not alone. In all my playing over the years I’ve had variations of this fatigue from day 1, even into my professional career. As a beginner (or after a long break) the muscles get tired faster and more often. The more you play, the less of an issue this becomes.
Why does this fatigue continue as a pro? The embouchure muscles work like any other muscle in the body. If you work them to the extreme (which pros do) then eventually they’ll get tired. However, when your muscles are “in shape” like an athlete, the recovery time may only take a few seconds.
Just like any other muscle group, we can do exercises to strengthen our embouchure muscles. Below I have listed 4 things you can do to help alleviate the pain and strengthen the muscles.
Tip #1: Be Consistent
If you practice 2 times a week, you’ll continue to have embouchure fatigue for a longer period of time. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just how muscles work. Just like we are all encouraged to exercise 5-7 days a week for our own health, our embouchure muscles will receive the most benefit if we exercise them 5-7 days a week. Remember, if you only have 10 minutes to practice, that counts!
Tip #2: Split up the Day
If you have a goal to practice a half an hour a day, and you can only play for 15 minutes (because of fatigue), then split up your sessions. Instead of trying to force your muscles to do everything in one session, split up your 30 minute practice session into two 15 minutes sessions that day. Who knows, you may end up practicing longer!
Tip #3: Strengthening Exercise A
An important American saxophone pedagogue, Larry Teal, shared some embouchure exercises in his book, The Art of Saxophone Playing. He shared how we can work out our embouchure muscles when we are not playing the saxophone. Here’s the first exercise:
Whistle (you don’t actually need to whistle, but move the muscles in that direction), and then produce a broad smile. Repeat this pattern 50 times, 3 times a day. You’ll be tired, and if it creates an issue with being able to play, then do this pattern 1 time a day. You can increase the daily repetitions as you become stronger.
Tip #4: Strengthening Exercise B
Simply purse your lips (push lips against each other, keeping the lip line straight, with no bulging) and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 25 times.
Go ahead and try out these tips and your muscles will become stronger. In addition, your ability to play without fatigue will increase. Soon you’ll get to a point where the muscles will become strong enough that the feeling of fatigue will become a rare occurrence. Let us know what you think! Share what has worked for you, and please share your experiences from applying our tips. Have fun playing!
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