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Beginner Thumb Ache

photoman

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I saw a post in this section about neck pain from playing a tenor, and it spurred me to ask about what is becoming a farily debilitating pain in my hand, from playing my BW bronze AI alto.

I can't seem to get the thumb to rest comfortably in the thumb hook, so that I am not putting any pressure on my hand. I get cramp and muscle ache in the soft flesh on the back of my right hand between the thumb and the first finger, that is so painful that I have had to stop playing within about 10 minutes or so to move my fingers around.

I have only been playing it for just over a week (including a break last week when I went on holiday), so it may ease off, and it is slightly better than it was, but it's not gone completely. I discussed is with my new teacher yesterday, and he helped me adjust the strap (a wide Neotech), and instructed me to "push the horn away from the body - and let the strap take the wieght.

I have also bought a rubber thumb hook cover, which has stopped the TH from feeling as it will slice my thumb off, but the pressure on the hand is still apparent.

Is it likely that I'll just develop stronger hand muscles (and to be honest, they are large piano player hands and I can easily crush an empty coke can now :thumb:) or am I doing something fundamentally wrong?

Any input will be "handy".

Stephen
 

kernewegor

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See my recent post on the harness thread - it could well be the answer... and for peanuts!
 

photoman

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See my recent post on the harness thread - it could well be the answer... and for peanuts!

Do you mean the standing tall like a "bobby" tip? I'll try it, but I can't see how it will alleviate thumb ache, to be honest.

Stephen
 

jbtsax

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I'll second "let the strap take the weight". The thumb hook is like an anchor for the right hand like a bassoon crutch. There should be no lifting or pressure. Taking the right hand away from the sax and shaking it from time to time can help relax the muscles.
 

kevgermany

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Another problem may be that you're squeezing too hard with your fingers to close the keys/get the notes. Should only need light finger pressure to do this. Excess finger pressure strains the thumb and gets painful.
 

Colin the Bear

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Let the instrument hang and adjust the strap and the angle of the crook and mouthpiece so you can blow a C# with no hands. If you don't play the saxophone in this position, use it as a place to return to to rest . Try to refrain from the "Glen Miller/rock and roll" swinging it about or holding it out in front as in some posed photographs. This will help you later when you start playing higher up using palm and side keys. Try not to grip the instrument. It's not a piano. A light touch is sufficient for a well regulated horn. Be aware of your fingers and try to not lift them too high when pads are open. Keep your fingers on the buttons. Less is more with the saxophone.
 

Fraser Jarvis

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Ever thought about adjusting the thumb hook? that's what that big screw in the middle is for....sorry to state the obvious but I would have thought your teacher would have told you...
 

photoman

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Ever thought about adjusting the thumb hook? that's what that big screw in the middle is for....sorry to state the obvious but I would have thought your teacher would have told you...

I did already. It moved from side to side, but didn't really affect the pressure on my hand.

Stephen
 

Profusia

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Hi Stephen,

There have been a couple (maybe more) threads over the last few months that have covered this issue. Probably lots of great suggestions each time but of course never consensus on a definitive answer as these things are so much down to the individual.

Can I ask how much time per day you are spending practising? I'm going to hazard a wild guess that you may have gone at this new saxophone passion like a bull in a china shop and your body is saying whoa I'm not used to this. You may also be concentrating like crazy and getting tense, over-gripping etc. Unfortunately there's quite a list to get right, good sling correctly adjusted, good posture, good horn position, relaxed grip (that doesn't support the weight), and time for your body adjust to this weird new thing you keep making it do. I actually get far more thumb problems when I play my curvy sop than I've ever had on alto or tenor, but that's because on sop I deliberately don't let the sling support the weight.
 

photoman

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Can I ask how much time per day you are spending practising? I'm going to hazard a wild guess that you may have gone at this new saxophone passion like a bull in a china shop and your body is saying whoa I'm not used to this.

Hi Thomas, thanks again to you and everyone for the very helpful replies.

I am trying to blow the sax every day, but I wouldn't say I'm doing it excessively. I work from home, and I'm lucky that I am extremely busy at the moment - working 14 hour days most of the time - so I can only snatch 15 or 20 minutes here and there. Usually finishing with a 20 minute practice in the early hours of the morning (I have no close neighbours).

So I'm probably not playing more than an hour a day in total. I was wearing it for about an hour and a half for my first lesson on Tuesday and that is the longest time I have had it around my neck. The pain was not nearly as bad as it has been after 10 minutes some days.

I totally agree with you about the posture issue though. I have sent for the Jazzlab Saxholder to see if transferring the weight of the sax from my neck helps. Interesting (if slightly rambling) review of it on Youtube here.

Stephen
 

Profusia

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An hour!? What luxury!! When I was a lad we used to live in a lake and had to get up ten minutes before bed time to clean the gravel with our tongues etc. etc. But seriously, your regime of several short sessions a day adding up to an hour sounds a very good way to start.

I have sent for the Jazzlab Saxholder to see if transferring the weight of the sax from my neck helps.

I have one and thoroughly recommend it. Makes the sax seem weightless. Do consider wearing a conventional sling (slackened right off) with it though as a sort of belt & braces double safety, as the saxholder has a bit of a mind of its own at times and can go walkabout when leaning forward. Perhaps just until you get used to its eccentricities at least. Better a bit of fiddle and faff than a lovely new horn hitting the deck.
 

photoman

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An hour!? What luxury!! When I was a lad we used to live in a lake and had to get up ten minutes before bed time to clean the gravel with our tongues etc. etc.

And if you told that to the young people of today; they'd never believe you.

I have one and thoroughly recommend it. Makes the sax seem weightless. Do consider wearing a conventional sling (slackened right off) with it though as a sort of belt & braces double safety, as the saxholder has a bit of a mind of its own at times and can go walkabout when leaning forward.

Good tip, thanks, I will do that.

Stephen
 

Reed Warbler

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You will probably find it gets easier as you put in the hours. My thumbs made me want to give up when I first started; I dont give them a second thought now. Thumb pain is often caused by excess tension in the hands, dont try too hard. Previous advice from Colin is spot on. My harness from China cost £9 and works perfectly.
 

Profusia

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Good tip, thanks, I will do that.
Stephen

I must in fact credit Tom Mapfumo for that tip who suggested it on a similar thread on here long before I even thought of buying a Saxholder. The minute I tried one and leant forward I remembered his tip.
 

MandyH

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I would second (or third....) making sure your sling / harness is adjusted high enough to enable the mouthpiece to simple be tipped into your mouth with slight control from your right hand thumb.
The weight of the instrument and its correct height should all be borne by the neck strap. All your thumb should be doing is stopping your hand slipping off the instrument.

when your sax is allowed to hang free (take off both hands) where does it hang?

You may need to add an extra strap to pull the sax to the correct angle (I did this with my BG harness on my bari). It meant that I could play C# with no hands on the sax at all.

And when you are playing, the sax should be against your body, not shoved out way in front. I rest the bottom curve of my alto in the bend at the top of my leg, where the leg joins the pelvis; and my tenor rests on my thigh. The bari (obviously) is out to the side.

My sop give my thumb the most grief because that does need to be pushed out in front a bit, or I am looking at the floor, not the music on the stand.
 

kernewegor

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Do you mean the standing tall like a "bobby" tip? I'll try it, but I can't see how it will alleviate thumb ache, to be honest.

Stephen

Nooo. What I posted there last night.
 

Clivey

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thumb2.jpg thumb.jpg


These 2 photos ( Badly shot) show the distortion of the cartilage tissue of my right thumb after playing Sax for over 30 years. I`m sorry but no pain no gain. You can cover the thumbrest with sugru or something soft but I`m afraid I have not yet come across a musical Instrument that does not cause some discomfort to play. and I`m not just talking bout the ears LOL.
 
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photoman

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View attachment 2784 View attachment 2785


These 2 photos ( Badly shot) show the distortion of the cartilage tissue of my right thumb after playing Sax for over 30 years. I`m sorry but no pain no gain. You can cover the thumbrest with sugru or something soft but I`m afraid I have not yet come across a musical Instrument that does not cause some discomfort to play. and I`m not just talking bout the ears LOL.

Me neither - I'm just checking that I'm not doing it all wrong.

Speaking of discomfort and playing...I was once part of a group of traditional Irish musicians entertaining a large convention of American doctors at a 5* hotel. We were asked if could talk a little bit about our instruments and how they were used in Irish music. The Uileann piper still reminds me (a true "blow-in" of an Englishman trying to wrestle with my instrument at the time) that I said something he found genuinely funny...

"This is a bouzouki. It is not to be confused with a bazooka. But I can probably do you as much damage with it!"

Stephen
 

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