We all do 'do, re, mi,' but you have got to find the other notes yourself
I had planned to upgrade my student Yamaha 275 on passing my grade 4 exam. A kind of reward I thought. But having just scraped through to a pass and having looked at my options and the prices of pro altos, I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that there’s no point in getting a saxophone that plays way better than me.
So I did the next best thing, I got it serviced, which sorted out the leaks, especially in the lower register. Suddenly everything was a lot easier to play. I was lucky and found a great service place with a very experienced saxophone specialist.
The other important thing I learnt during this period was the importance of the mouth piece. Now there’s a whole science to this which I’m really not qualified to talk about yet. But luckily the chap that serviced my sax, took one look at my mouthpiece and immediately offered to sell me a used Selmer S80. Which I grabbed with both hands.
The Selmer mouthpiece has taken my sound to another level and I’m happy to wait a bit longer before I upgrade. So my advice to anyone starting off is to get your saxophone serviced and get a better mouthpiece before trading up.
Having opted for the the harness from Neotech over the standard neckstrap I really struggled keeping the saxophone at the right height. You can see my earlier post on Strap or Harness here. Having persevered with it for almost 4 month, finally, I worked out the problem. These harnesses have to be strapped very close to the body to prevent the straps from sliding over your shoulders with the weight of the sax. I did this and it all worked perfectly but the sax stays too close for my comfort. Now I’m not good enough to be swinging my sax around but I suspect this would be very hard to do with a harness or at least this one from Neotech. So, I decided to contact the very nice people I bought this from (John Wyatt Woodwind and Brass) and fortunately they were very accommodating even though it was well past the date for any reasonable return policy. They offered me an alternative the JazzLab “SaxHolder” Saxophone Strap. I must admit I was expecting this to be a bit of a novelty item, so I approached with causation when it arrived. Oh and I agreed with the shop that I’d only return the original harness if the Sax holder was better.
The first thing you notice is it’s not going to just fit into any old bag. It is made of metal and plastic which curves to fit over your shoulders and it doesn’t fold flat like a strap or harness. But it does fold to roughly half the length you see on the photo. Once out of the cloth bag, you simply fold it out in one smooth action and voila it just sits on your shoulders. Then comes the clever bit I think. There’s an adjustable telescopic support which extends to sit somewhere comfortable on your stomach. This keeps your saxophone slightly in front of the bod without you having to hold out it out infront of you with your thumb. Genius! Then it’s a case of sliding the plastic hook onto the ring onteh sax and adjusting the nifty height adjustment thing till you have it where you want it.
Once the sax was in place it was an awesome experience. There’s no pressure on your thumb where I usually try to hold it up, and there’s a lot of room to manoeuvre. You can really hold it away from you unlike the harness. I had read that the little arm support that rest on the stomach can be a bit awkward, and yes, I did find it a little odd for a few minutes, but then forgot all about it. That’t the thing about this Saxholder, you simply forget it’s there.
My only reservation now is it still feels like it could just fall off your shoulders but this is probably physiological, because I’m used to the straps going all the way around the body and the idea trusting these shoulder supports staying there with just the weight of the sax takes a little time to get used to. Having said that this really is a great device and I just can’t see me going back. I would highly recommend it especially to a beginner sax player like me who has enough things to worry about without the constant neck, shoulder, back and finger ache from holding a saxophone in the right position for anything longer than 20 minutes.
Having arrived for my first sax lesson the thing that immediately struck me was the strap or rather the harness my teacher was wearing. This looked very comfortable with two straps that came over from the back of the shoulders and met in the middle of the chest where there was one of those trigger hooks, like the ones used for clipping keys to your jeans. This all looked a lot more balanced and a less painful alternative to my classic loop strap that just went round the neck.
With a little encouragement from my teacher I decided to buy one and within a week I had ordered the Neotech harness from Amazon shown below. But before you go rushing into buy one there’s a few things to point out. Yes, it is a lot better than my neck cruncher and even more comfortable on the shoulders than the one my teacher was wearing, with additional soft padding under the shoulder straps. It even looks robust and durable. But, there are a couple of things I’m not fond of.
First, there’s the hefty price tag. At nearly £30 it’s not cheap, but I’m starting to realise that most of the kit for a sax is very expensive for what it is, probably due to the low quantities they make. The next issue which is a biggie for me is the position. I have never managed to keep the straps from sliding over the shoulders with the weight of the sax. The result is my alto keeps slipping below the ideal height for playing (keeping a good straight back). While this may seem like a major designs flaw, I am not so sure. The fact is as a beginner, seems you can never be too sure about anything. Is it your reed or your embouchure, is your strap too lose or your thumb too week to hold up the weight of the sax. So I have decided to give it another couple of months before concluding. I will report back. One thing I can say is that a harness that avoids the neck is a whole lot better for your neck and back