If you want to be the next Charlie Parker, you’ll want to start playing the saxophone.
However, you need to be careful not to let it affect your health:
Here’s How Playing Saxophone Can be Bad for You:
Playing the saxophone can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, scar tissue, teeth issues, and more. You could even affect your singing voice or develop a repetitive stress injury (RSI) if you’re not careful. Luckily, you can take steps to protect your health when playing.
Can Playing the Saxophone Affect Your Hearing?
At its loudest, a saxophone can exceed 100 decibels, and hearing loss can occur after only 15 minutes of exposure to that volume.
If you’re able to play louder, you could start to lose your hearing in less time. On the other hand, hearing loss can still happen if you practice for multiple hours daily, even at a lower volume.
Also, saxophone players tend to sit in front of various brass instruments in ensembles. In a jazz band, you sit in front of the trombones, and the noise from that section could affect your hearing.
You also might sit in front of the trombones and other low brass instruments in a wind ensemble.
So if you play in multiple groups, the exposure can compound and affect your hearing even more.
Can Playing the Saxophone Affect Your Singing Voice?
Playing the saxophone shouldn’t affect your singing voice as long as you don’t use any odd techniques.
Growling while playing can help you create a cool sound, which can affect your larynx and, therefore, your voice.
You may also hold a lot of tension in your throat while you play the sax. That excess tension could affect your singing, so you might struggle to sing some of your highest or lowest notes.
However, you shouldn’t worry about your saxophone playing affecting your singing. Make sure you stay as relaxed as possible to avoid tension and stress in your body.
Is Saxophone Good or Bad for Your Lungs?
Playing saxophone is almost always good for your lungs. In the past, there have been cases of people developing a lung infection, but that’s more common among bagpipe players.
The infection developed because bacteria from the bagpipes got into the player’s windway. However, you can avoid this problem by swabbing out your saxophone after playing it and not sharing your sax with anyone, especially when you’re sick.
You should also swap out reeds every few months at least and definitely after you recover from being sick. That way, you don’t have to worry about the reed negatively affecting your lungs.
Is Saxophone Bad for Your Teeth?
Sadly, playing the saxophone can be bad for your teeth. For one, you must put a decent amount of pressure on your top and bottom teeth to form a good embouchure.
Your embouchure should never feel tense or tight, but it needs to be firm to get a good tone. If you hold a lot of tension in your jaw, that could affect your teeth.
Your mouthpiece and reed will vibrate as you play, and your teeth absorb those vibrations. Over time, the vibrations could damage the inner parts of your teeth and make them more sensitive.
Can You Play TOO Much Saxophone?
You can play the saxophone too much, and doing so can lead to problems. Many musicians will develop a repetitive strain injury (RSI) at some point.
These injuries can affect your nerves, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. A common injury you may have had or know someone with is carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when you pinch or squeeze the median nerve in your arm, making playing painful. As a beginner, you should practice in short bursts to avoid overworking yourself.
When you get more experience, you can play for longer. However, you should work with a teacher to avoid developing bad habits that increase your chance of developing an RSI.
Do Professional Saxophone Players Live as Long as Other Players?
A 1999 study claimed that some professional saxophonists have a shorter lifespan than average. However, the study had a few problems.
First, they only considered saxophonists born from 1882 to 1974. Many saxophonists have been born since then, so it’s not a good sample for today’s players.
Also, the average lifespan for all people (saxophonists or not) increased significantly from 1900 to 1998, and it’s even higher now than at the end of the 20th century.
The study didn’t consider factors like the stress of constantly touring to earn an income. And it didn’t account for other habits that could affect one’s lifespan, such as smoking.
While we don’t have clear evidence one way or the other, a lot more goes into your lifespan than playing the saxophone. Your instrument shouldn’t keep you from living a long life as long as you live a healthy lifestyle.
Other Potential Negative Side Effects of Playing the Saxophone
Unfortunately, playing the saxophone comes with a variety of health risks. For many performers, those risks are worth the benefits, such as creative expression and fulfillment.
Before you jump into playing the saxophone, you should consider more drawbacks. Then, you can determine if these things are worth risking and how to mitigate those risks.
Playing the saxophone requires you to cover your bottom teeth with your bottom lip. That protects the reed from your teeth and allows the reed to vibrate and create a sound.
However, it also places a lot of pressure on your lower lip. As you play, your teeth can dig into your lower lip, and you can develop some scar tissue.
If you use a double lip embouchure, you may also develop scar tissue on your upper lip. Fortunately, you can fold athletic tape over itself and place it between your lip and teeth to decrease the scar tissue.
But it can still happen, even if to a lesser degree. Even if you stop playing the saxophone, the tissue can linger for quite a while.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss:
We already covered that playing the saxophone can affect your hearing. However, it’s so important that it bears repeating, and you can do something to protect your hearing.
Whenever you practice the saxophone, wear a pair of earplugs. You can buy musician’s earplugs which will only reduce the sound by 10 or 20 decibels, so you can still hear yourself and others.
The earplugs can keep the volume from damaging your hearing. You can also go to an audiologist and get custom earplugs, which are often very expensive.
You must start protecting your hearing as a beginner or a professional. Once you lose it, you won’t be able to get it back, so being proactive is vital.
Like other musicians, saxophone players can develop eye strain. Unless you can play entirely by ear, you must spend a lot of time looking at sheet music.
You may need to squint to see the notes if you play in a dark environment. The same is true if the music is printed smaller than it should be, making the notes harder to see.
While many musicians have started to use tablets to read music, that creates a different problem, spending multiple hours a day looking at electronic screens can cause eye strain or dry eye.
If you use paper copies, ensure they’re large enough to see, and consider using a stand light in dark areas. Take breaks from the screen every 20 minutes when using a tablet to let your eyes refocus.
You may also develop pain in your neck from playing the saxophone. On the one hand, a neck strap can help transfer a lot of the weight of your sax away from your hands.
However, there are tons of low-quality, uncomfortable neck straps on the market. Using one of those cheap straps can do more harm than good, and your neck may start to hurt.
If you play the bari sax, you should look for a harness rather than a neck strap. Your neck shouldn’t have to support up to 20 pounds of a baritone sax.
It also helps to sit when you play the bari, especially if yours comes with a floor peg. Then, part of the weight can rest on the ground, so you can relax more as you play.
A lot of the negative side effects of playing the saxophone are physical. However, performance anxiety, or stage fright, is more of a mental effect.
If you’ve never played in front of people, you may feel very nervous before your first concert. For some musicians, performing gets easier with practice, and they get over their stage fright.
Other musicians may still struggle with the anxiety, even after years of performing. It can seem almost impossible to overcome your stage fright and enjoy performing.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any good tips for getting over this because I’ve never really experienced performance anxiety. But there are tons of resources online that you can look into.
Another side effect of playing the saxophone is that it gets expensive. Even the cheapest student alto saxophone can cost around $2,000 (assuming it’s from a reputable brand).
Other saxophones cost more, and professional models can be nearly $8,000 new. Then, you may need to pay for a mouthpiece, some of which is almost $1,000.
You’ll also have the ongoing cost of reeds, which you should replace at least every few months. You’ll want to get new reeds more frequently if you perform professionally.
All of these costs can add up and affect your financial health and even your mental health. Luckily, you can take things slow and only upgrade when necessary by buying used gear when possible to save money.