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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Bad Advice

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Bad Advice

In my early twenties I went to the doctor for advice. I’d been practising the saxophone a lot and I’d noticed that my jaw made a strange clicking sound. I was curious to know what was going on. The advice I received was so shocking that I laughed in the guys face.

He said that I should stop playing saxophone immediately as it was a sign that my jaw was becoming irreparably damaged. He suggested that if I continue then I would need surgery and he recommended that I contact a dental surgeon.

After I had finished laughing I told him that it seemed quite extreme and I was relying on playing saxophone for my income. He then regaled a story about how he wanted to be a professional football player but damaged his knee. He was unable to play the game and chose a different path. Coincidental that he was now giving me advice to change career, don’t you think?

Fast forward 10 years or so and my jaw is fine. I was perhaps hammering it a bit hard at that stage as I was on a mission to practice at least 4 hours a day. People often underestimate the physical element of playing an instrument and it takes time to develop the right muscles for a good embouchure. I ended up researching the correct methods for playing so that I minimised strain and this ultimately led to a better sound. One book I discovered was Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound by Dave Liebman. Well worth a read if you want to geek out on saxophone physics.

The other advice I took heed of was much later on. It was about the amount of time spent practising and how to maximise efficiency. I had a couple of guitarist friends who had developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome¬†from playing way too much and they had to rest for at least 6 weeks. It was also very painful and I didn’t like the sound of that! I ended up breaking up my practice into small but regular sessions and it worked well. I could probably up it a bit more but life manages to get in the way.

Anyway, that’s it. Just a short summary of an experience I remembered out of the blue and a warning to you all to be aware of bad advice. I’m not claiming that all doctors get things wrong, they have an incredibly tough job. I would also advise you to see them if something has gone wrong, but don’t blindly follow someone else’s advice. Particularly when, in my case, it was hugely biased. Keep your wits about you and look for multiple sources.

Comments can be left below


3 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Mike
    December 15, 2016

    Excellent advice Jay.

    I’ve had a problem with my left wrist from over-playing the guitar over the last few months, leading to various diagnoses from different medical practitioners of carpal tunnel issues, RSI, tendonitis, De Quervain’s disease, and nerve damage (a range that possibly results from my inability to describe consistent symptoms, but then it kept changing!).

    The common advice from all was ‘stop playing the guitar so much’. Playing the guitar is not my main source of income, or any meaningful source of income, but I really like it, and stopping is not an option. However, limiting practice for a few weeks and changing how I practice has definitely helped – better posture when playing, paying attention to the shape of my wrist, not over-extending it, and practising for shorter periods have all helped.

    The message I took from the medical advice was “what you’re currently doing is causing damage, if you’re going to carry on, you need to do it better”!

  2. Chris
    December 15, 2016

    Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction – what a twit the doctor was ( I have it too )
    I had an operation on my index finger many years ago – it is forever ‘slow’ – I simply will never be able to play very fast – they knew I was a musician but they never warned me :(
    Doctors don’t like us googling though…

  3. Keith
    December 15, 2016

    Hi Jay,

    Picking up on your comment about geeking out on saxophone physics I can highly recommend the site below if you wish to understand the pure physics behind the instrument. It was incredibly helpful when I was researching for my (still awaited!) patent;

    I’ve even struck up a bit of a conversation with the guy but he seems quietly sceptical about the ‘silent mouthpiece’!



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