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Brace Yourself: A Woodwind Doubler’s Journey With Braces , Part 2

Thanks for coming back to read Part 2 in this on-going series. If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out first. I took a little longer to get around to writing this edition than I had planned. Life got crazy when I unexpectedly added another part-time job. We’re here now though!

As I mentioned at the end of Part 1, Part 2 is dedicated to what I have found it to be like playing with braces on. I’ve had some challenges, but ultimately it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. However, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges.  So, without any further ado… Brace Yourself.

Baritone Sax

Those of you that follow my career will know that the baritone sax (bari) is my primary instrument. I picked up the bari at the age of 13 and have been in love with it ever since. The first time I had braces, back in high school, the bari was the only wind instrument I was playing. Before getting my braces put on this time I tried thinking back to those days to see if I remembered what it was like, but I didn’t. That may be because it’s not really any different!

I didn’t practice at all for the first couple of days with braces. The bari was the first instrument I picked up to try. Other than a little everyday soreness in the teeth that comes with braces being freshly put on, it was completely normal. This was a relief. I was worried that something was going to changes and I’d be unable to perform for the next two years. So far so good. I say that because as you may recall from Part 1, I only have the top braces so far. For now though all is well and I can feel comfortable booking gigs with my band, The Remainders, over the next few months.

2018 Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival

Aaron Brown Photography

Alto Sax

I’m not going to lie, I’ve hardly touched the alto. I don’t have a great relationship with this instrument to start with, dating back to my undergraduate degree. I have played it a little though and like the bari, it mostly feels the same. However, I have to work a little harder to get my lips to create a seal around the mouthpiece. That’s all though.

Flute

The flute is by far my weakest instrument. I hoped that I’d feel confident on it by the end of this pandemic, and I was getting there. Braces ruined that. It is a completely different game playing the flute with braces on. I have to work so much harder to get my lips to form the right shape. I can do it, but it’s a lot more work. The first octave of the flute isn’t too bad to play and most days I feel okay in the second. When I try to go up to the third octave though, I feel like I’ve lost over a year of progress.

It sucks, but it is what is is. I still try to play the flute every day though so that at the very least I’m not completely starting over when the braces come off. I know it will likely all change again when the bottom braces go on in a few months, and I’ll deal with it. It’s also entirely possible that over time I will get use to playing with the braces and I’ll get back to where I was before they went on. This will definitely be something I continue to report on in future posts.

Clarinet

Clarinet is the instrument I spend the most time with theses days because I have been taking lessons on it since January. Thankfully the braces aren’t affecting my ability to play the clarinet any more than they did the alto or the bari. I do have to work harder to create a seal around the mouthpiece, but that’s minor. The one thing I have noticed though is that the clarinet tends to slip out of my mouth more. This may have absolutely nothing to do with the braces and may simply be correlation rather than causation. Every time it happens I try to think about what I felt just before it happen, but so far I can identify a cause. It’s something to work on though.

2018 Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival

Aaron Brown Photography

Bass Clarinet

Last, but not least, the bass clarinet. I’ve spent a decent amount of time with this instrument because I was playing the bass clarinet part for the latest project with the Virtual Concert Band. The bass clarinet was the biggest change of the reed instruments. The mouthpiece is already so much larger than the others, now add in having to work harder to create a seal and my face gets tired much quicker. Thankfully, this is minor. I just have to work up my endurance which is never a bad thing because it will help every instrument in the long run.

Wrap Up

There was one thing that was consistent across all the instruments and was also caused by talking. The metal braces rubbing against the inside of my lip. It was extremely uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks. It felt like they were absolutely shredding the inside of my lip. For the most part, I don’t feel that any more unless I’ve done a larger than normal amount of practicing and talking in a day.

Right now I’m feeling much better with all of this that I was anticipating, so I’m happy about that. With the struggle across the reed instruments being the same, it makes it an easy thing to work through. As for the flute, either it will get better or it won’t and I’ll just have to deal with it. So unless something major changes all of a sudden, I don’t foresee myself having much to say in this series until the bottom braces go on. With that I won’t put a time line on when to expect Part 3 because I can’t even harbour a guess. As always, follow my on social media to stay in the loop and thanks again for reading!

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