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How important is a saxophone neckstrap?

“I’m getting headaches when I play for a while.”

“The back of my neck hurts all the time.”

“My upper back and shoulder blades hurt.”

These are some of the complaints that some saxophonists have said at some point in their playing careers.

These pains are not exclusive for beginners; some professionals I gig with have said the same things to me.

In fact, I didn’t realize my own headaches were coming from my own neckstrap until my colleagues spoke about their own situation.

Many beginning students slump in their chairs because they can’t adjust their neckstrap to bring the instrument higher. They end up ducking their chin to try to reach the mouthpiece, instead of bringing the mouthpiece to them. They also slump because it is less painful on the neck, especially if their strap has no padding.

I have always known about the importance of having a padded neckstrap; one that helps to take a lot of the weight of the instrument off the neck and right thumb. I have always used them and have recommended them for my students (and still do).

How to Avoid That Pain in the Neck…Some Tips for Saxophonists

saxophone neckstrap

CC BY by Steenbergs

So why doesn’t the padded neckstrap alleviate this problem?

The first thing to look at is posture.

Are you seated or standing up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, or are you hunched over?

When your shoulders move forward, more stress is felt in the upper back and shoulder blades. More weight is felt on the back of the neck as a result.

Your shoulders may be back, but are they down and relaxed?

Shoulders that are up towards your ears also put undue stress on the neck and upper back, as well as affecting breathing.

Here’s a picture of good seated posture:

Good seated sax posture with a padded neckstrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Saxophone Neckstrap is really important...

The next area to examine is the quality of your neckstrap.

Many times, when a student rents a saxophone, a stock neck strap is placed in the case. This strap is basically just a strap; there’s no padding at all. This I feel is not sufficient for beginning saxophonists.

In the past, I always recommend the Neotech brand for beginners because the padding does take a lot of the weight of the horn off your neck and right thumb. Many beginners start on alto sax, so this strap is a very good choice. This neck strap will work great for you if you are also mindful of your posture and shoulder position.

But as of the past couple of years, there are many other great quality padded straps. Yamaha just came out with it's Air Cell strap that's under $20 as of this writing.

 

Rico also just came out with a nicely-padded strap too that's under $20 and has a solid hook.

There's also straps from Just Joe’s Gel Strap, BG, Oleg, Pro Tech, and others I am not even aware of.

You can check your local music store, use my affiliate links for Amazon, search the internet, or check out the Woodwind and Brasswind site:
Shop at Woodwind and Brasswind

Alternatives to the Neckstrap

For those of us playing the larger saxophones (tenor, bari), the quality of the strap is crucial. But here is where alternatives may need to be explored.

Some players, especially those on the Bari sax, use a harness instead of a neck strap.

The idea behind the harness is that the weight of the instrument is distributed evenly across the shoulders and back.

Some popular harnesses are made by Neotech and BG. These are great products, but one consideration is that these harnesses are not made to accommodate smaller people, people with narrow shoulders or beginning students.

A new harness system was produced by Van Doren, the famous reed manufacturer. The Vandoren V System Harness (now called the FNH 100 Harness) uses aerodynamic technology and ergo-dynamic design to distribute the weight in such a way that you barely feel the saxophone on you at all.

This is a big deal for Bari sax players, where the instrument can start to feel heavier when you are playing for long periods of time.

This is also great for tenor and bari sax players in marching bands.

For a smaller person, like me, I think this system works great. I use it on tenor sax and  even alto if I am doubling on a gig.It fits perfectly and is very comfortable.
Another new type of harness is the Jazzlab Saxholder Harness for All Saxophones

It is designed to distribute the weight across the shoulders, and it fits smaller students and professionals.  I have also used this, and it is very comfortable.

My only concern about this harness is that it if you lean forward too far (i.e. when picking up something you dropped), it will fall off your shoulders. This may be a good choice for more responsible students and adults only for that reason.

**Update -Jazzlab re-designed its SaxHolder and now the second version of the harness is more secure.

 

Check out this video I did comparing the neckstraps and harnesses:

Other Concerns

I had a student who was diagnosed as having epilepsy.

Any kind of pressure on the back of the neck could be an issue for her.

A good quality harness that fits well is very important in this situation.

**The  JazzLab Saxholder fits smaller people really well, and can be disassembled in one move, which for this medical condition may be crucial if the student has a seizure.

Action Steps:

  1. If you teach students, it is important to be in tune with them (no pun intended!) and check to make sure that they have the proper neck strap.
  2. If you notice forward-protruding shoulders, the chin being ducked to reach the mouthpiece (instead of bringing the mouthpiece to the student)  or slumping in the chair, check to see if the neck strap is padded and can adjust up or down.
  3. If it hurts to play the instrument, chances are the neck strap needs to be adjusted or changed.
  4. As a performer, be more aware of how you physically feel before and after you play.  Feel the back of your neck and see if there are knots (very tight muscle lumps). Notice if you experiencing headaches after you perform for extended amounts of time. Notice if your shoulder blades hurt more after you perform.

To learn more practicing techniques so you can master playing your favorite songs, enter your name and email address in the form below. I'll also send you a bonus tip every week that will help you play the saxophone with confidence by practicing just 30 minutes a day (yes, really just a half-hour per day!)

 

Through careful observation, we can prevent that “pain in the neck” when we play our great instrument, the saxophone!

 

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