Tips for the Aging Saxophonist
by 98-year-old Martin Frank
Date Posted: April 18, 2023
Martin Frank is a 98-year-old active wind player. At 12 years old, he was given a metal clarinet and a series of lessons at Gimble Bros. dep’t store after falling in love with Artie Shaw’s playing. Frank was later drafted into the US Navy as an electronic technician and served for many years during and after WW II. Upon returning to the US, Frank went to college and trained in Internal Medicine and Cardiology. At age 43 he resumed woodwind playing, and continues to practice the clarinet and saxophone to this day.
I was recently filling out a form to purchase some saxophone product, and the lowest date of birth listed was 1927. I was born in 1925. Yes, I am a 98 year-old active wind player! I practice daily and play in a sax quartet once a week. It helps my mental status with the inevitable decline in physicality and loss of friends. However, I began experiencing age related progressive fatigue of the lips, and jaw (masseter) muscles which was limiting how long I could play. Consequently, I began instituting corrective measures which gradually produced a significant increase in my endurance.
I started by playing till the slightest sense of fatigue or discomfort occurred. Then I would take a break till I felt fully recovered. This was repeated several times until time constraints ended the exercises. The resistance of the instrument is an important factor in inducing fatigue. I discovered several ways to help overcome this problem.
I’d like to share what I hope are useful tips to deal with common difficulties among aging saxophonists. My hope is that by sharing some tips to make playing a little bit easier, others in my situation might enjoy similar results and be encouraged to keep playing.
Exercise the muscles involved in breathing.
Like any other muscle, it is important keep our breathing muscles conditioned and in shape. Doing so will help increase air velocity, which improves tone.
Use an inhaler 30 mins before playing, especially for those with COPD or asthma.
Lung volume decreases with aging due to decreasing height, among other health factors. Tone can be compromised by the decrease in expiratory air velocity, using an inhaler can help to counteract this.
Use softer reeds.
Softer reeds will reduce resistance to air stream flow and embouchure fatigue. I use Vandoren Java Red 1.5 reeds.
Use a mouthpiece with a narrow tip opening.
Choosing an appropriate mouthpiece is very important. A mouthpiece with a narrower tip proved helpful for me. A wider tip requires more air and effort.
Always have a good seal of the reed with the mouthpiece table so the reed can freely vibrate.
Tools like fine-grade sandpaper and the Vandoren Reed Resurfacer are useful for flattening the table of reeds when necessary. Using reeds with a good seal on the mouthpiece will ultimately decrease resistance and allow for a bigger sound with less effort.
I hope this information is helpful. Attention to these areas has helped me continue playing to my current age of 98. I hope these tips allow you to enjoy similar results.