Posture When Playing the Saxophone

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 29,924
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel demonstrates how to properly stand when playing your saxophone.

    Seth Kibel

    Seth Kibel is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's premier saxophonists. His latest release, on Azalea City Recordings, is "The Great Pretender." On his first solo album, The Great Pretender, tenor saxophonist Seth Kibel brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Adding their talents to two of Seth’s original tunes and eight of his creative arrangements are European blues star Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues diva Melanie Mason, D.C. guitar legend Dave Chappell, jazz pianist Sean Lane, rocker Billy Coulter, dobro-ist Dave Giegerich, bassist Sam Goodall, and drummers Mark Lucas and Joe Wells. The covers include dramatic re-interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Duke Ellington and The Kinks. '

    The album’s blues and roots rock sounds represent a new approach for the versatile performer and composer, known for his jazz and klezmer music and his leadership of the award-winning “alternative klezmer” band The Alexandria Kleztet. Seth has won 11 Washington Area Music Association Awards (Wammies) including Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Best World Music Instrumentalist.

    Seth began his career as a full-time professional musician in 1996, when he moved to the Washington/Baltimore area following his graduation from Cornell University with a double major in Music and American Studies. Since that time, he has been in demand as a sideman and as a bandleader performing in such diverse genres as jazz, rock, blues, swing, klezmer, dixieland, and classical music.

    Seth began his professional klezmer career in 1993 with Cayuga Klezmer Revival, upstate New York’s premier klezmer band. Their CD, Klezmology, is still sold nationally. Seth is currently the leader, clarinetist, and composer for The Alexandria Kleztet, an “alternative” klezmer band he founded in the Baltimore/Washington area. The band’s three albums, Y2Klezmer (1999), Delusions of Klezmer (2002), and Close Enough for Klezmer (2005) are all available internationally. All three albums received the Washington Area Music Association’s (WAMA) award for Best World Music Recording following their release. The Alexandria Kleztet was named "Best World Music Duo or Group" by WAMA for 2003, 2004, and 2006. Seth also received individual awards for "Best World Music Instrumentalist" in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, and was named "Best Jazz Instrumentalist" for 2005.

    In addition to his activities with the Kleztet, Seth has fronted a variety of swing and jazz groups, including Corner Pocket, Air Mail Special, The Bay Jazz Project, and Seth Kibel’s Dixieland All-Stars. In 2002, he was commissioned to write, perform, and record an original score for Dreams in the Golden Country, an original theatrical production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In January 2004, he released his first jazz CD, a joint album with violinist Susan Jones entitled Nuts and Bolts. And in late 2004, he produced A Chanukah Feast, an album for the DC-based charity Hungry for Music featuring both regional and national artists. In 2005, he was the recipient of an "ASCAPlus" grant, as well as a Silver Prize (2nd place) winner in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, in the "jazz/blues/instrumental" division. In summer 2007, he released The Great Pretender, his first solo record for Azalea City Recordings. On the album, Seth brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Seth has performed with such notables as Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), Percy Sledge, The Coasters, and Johnnie Johnson. Additionally, he has appeared with many notable groups in the Baltimore/Washington area, including The Daryl Davis Band, Project Natale, Christian Josi, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, The VanDangos, and The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, just to name a few. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, the Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as on several European tours.

    Seth can be heard on recent CD releases by the Skyla Burrell Blues Band, the Swing States Road Show, folksinger John Simon, The Civil Air Patrol Band, American Song, The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, guitarist David Kitchen, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues guitarist Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, jazz vocalist Esther Haynes, and flamenco guitarist Gerard Moreno. Since 2002, he has been on the faculty of the ElderHostel program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He has also lectured extensively on klezmer, jazz, swing, the big band era, and other related musical topics at Peabody, Goucher College, and elsewhere.

    Seth's primary instruments are the clarinet, saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), and flute. He has, however, been known to make some noise on harmonica, recorder, guitar, piano, and accordion. In his eight years as a professional musician, Seth has performed for numerous private affairs, such as receptions, weddings, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, all across the country. Whatever your affair, Seth will work with you to put together the right ensemble. References available upon request.

    Now, you have successfully assembled your saxophone but there are still a few more steps and a few things we got to talk about before we play our first notes. First, positioning and adjusting the saxophone. There are a lot of different ways to adjust the position of a saxophone. You can raise or lower the sax strap, you can swivel the neck of the saxophone if you loosen up the neck screw and you can rotate the mouthpiece on the neck. All of these adjustments are perfectly good and perfectly legal to do. The key point is this, you want to make sure you have the saxophone adjusted in such a way, so that it comfortably falls into your mouth with your back straight, your head up tall, your neck straight, no bending or no contorting whatsoever. Good posture is very important when playing the saxophone. Now, I am not harping on this thing about good posture because I am some kind of old school madam who insists you sit up straight. No, it really does affect the way you play the saxophone. Try this for once, imagine, if I were to play the saxophone with the strap too low and maybe the neck a little bit off tilted and I am doing this kind of thing. Now, hold this position and try to take as deeper breathe as you can take. You can not take a very deep breath this way because you are bending your air pipe all every which way but when you stand up straight, when you have your neck straight and your head up tall, then you can take a big breath. So, that is why good posture is so important in playing the saxophone, not because I care about etiquette but because I care about breathing. Now, of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. One of my favorite saxophonist is actually, my favorite saxophonist of all time, the great Lester Young, this fellow right here who made all those wonderful recordings of that first great Count Basie band. Lester Young is just an exquisite saxophonist and boy! Did he play the saxophone in a strange way? He would play out at the side of his mouth with the neck kind of turned and the mouthpiece rotated kind of like this. If I saw any of my students play saxophone like that, I get very upset but Lester Young was able to pull it off and I would not argue with him. I do not know it is an interesting historical note, it turns to the reason he did this, was because he got his start in Woodville. His family had a Woodville act when he was a boy and one of his childhood tricks in the Woodville show was to play the saxophone upside down. Alright, one more thing I got to talk about involving the position of the saxophone and that is standing up versus sitting down . Both are fine. You can play the saxophone standing up, you can play the saxophone sitting down but you are going to have to make different adjustments depending on what you do. If you sit down, you will probably have to hike up the sax strap a little bit, maybe rotate the neck a bit, you are going to have to make changes. Now, most saxophones you play to the side of your right leg, like so. Our alto saxophone however, gives you two options both of which are fine. You can play it to the side like the other saxophones or you can play it between your legs, straight on. Now, if you do that, you are going to have to make different adjustments to the neck, the strap and the mouthpiece. Alright, we are going to take a short digression right now and talk for a few minutes about the care and selection of your reeds.