It’s all about holding the thing properly…
Over the years, I have played a number of sports (field hockey/squash/golf) that involve using an implement (stick/racquet/club) to hit a ball. Each sport’s coach has told me that one of the most important techniques to get right is how you hold the implement so that the ball is hit using the ‘sweet spot’ for maximum power and accuracy at exactly the right moment.
This seemed straightforward enough, especially when practicing. However bad habits would slip in due to the pressure of the game and/or fatigue and sure, the ball would still get hit, but something else in the body stance would move out of alignment to compensate. Accuracy, power, and timing were compromised.
Now, when playing the saxophone we come into contact with it via eight fingers, two thumbs, and one mouth, with only the right-hand thumb staying still. None are supposed to support the weight of the horn, as even that right-hand thumb’s job is only to steady it.
It’s vital for your fingers and left-hand thumb to have freedom of movement. Plus your embouchure needs to be relaxed in order to get a great sound and control vibrato etc. (Check out our Five Tone Tips in Sax School here)
Start putting any of the weight of the horn on any of these touchpoints and it’s all going to start to go wrong. Indeed, even if that right-hand thumb begins to take some weight, then the tension will be created in the rest of that hand, hindering the fingers’ free movement.
My tenor sax weighs in at approx 3.4kg and up to now, that weight has been supported using a neck strap. A problem I have is that over an extended playing session I subconsciously start taking some of the weight off my neck by using that right-hand thumb. At times pressure can also mount on my bottom lip.
Now being a bloke, rather than paying more attention to my mouthpiece set-up, I thought that there must be some different piece of kit to solve this problem. A search of the internet found a new type of sax support known as the Saxholder and an exception was made to my rule of only spending money on lessons rather than accessories. A purchase was made.
So how does it work?
Designed primarily for the Alto and Tenor Sax, it comprises two arms that sit on the shoulders so they take the weight instead of the neck. Adjustable support that sits on the abdomen provides the triangulation strength that keeps the Saxholder steady in use. The arms have metal inserts that can be bent to give a comfortable fit, and taking it on and off is easy.
The cord and mechanism keep the sax at the height selected without slipping down and don’t need to be adjusted when taking it on and off. This is handy if you only play one type of saxophone. If swapping between Alto and Tenor, the length of the support cord can be easily adjusted. The manufacturer claims that the cord has a 250kg breaking load.
The abdomen support can also be adjusted for when standing or sitting. Overall it has a quality feel about it.
How have I found it in use?
First off, the strain on my neck is no more. Additionally, the result is a constant position for the sax in relation to my fingers, thumbs, and mouth as once adjusted correctly I don’t have to touch it again until I change the instrument/add an extra layer of clothing.
The right-hand thumb is now just steadying the sax and there is no downward pressure on the lower lip.
Interestingly, the slightly more forward pivot point makes the feeling of holding the sax different from when using a neck strap; it’s swinging in front of you rather than from your neck.
For many years suitcases didn’t have wheels on them and when they did we were surprised that it hadn’t been thought of before. To me, this is one of those products.
Check it out on Amazon here: Jazzlab SAXHOLDER-PRO
Having retired from his desk-bound day job, Mike Guest is currently re-training as a musician; only rarely now does he pursue a ball with any form of stick.