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Can You Play a Musical Instrument with Braces?

Two people playing instruments

It is a myth that you won’t be able to play your woodwind or brass instrument while you’re wearing braces. Although there will likely be an adjustment period after the orthodontist applies your braces, you will be able to return to normal playing. Typically it will take one to two weeks for you to fully adapt, as well as a couple of days after each orthodontic adjustment.

Whether you are an adult or a teen, you should not let your band or orchestra participation interfere with your desire to pursue a healthier smile. Thousands of people play musical instruments every year while wearing braces.

Popular Instruments Affected By Braces

Brass and woodwinds are the two categories of instruments that wearing braces will affect. Brass players face the most significant challenges because they must press their mouths against their instruments with some level of force. Woodwind players adjust more easily to playing with braces because they need to apply less pressure to the instrument, and the braces do not come in direct contact with the mouthpiece.

Trumpet

Braces affect trumpet players more than any other instrument because of the small size of the mouthpiece and the force required when pressing the lips, which becomes quite challenging with metal brackets. One temporary adjustment to consider is switching to a plastic mouthpiece, which will place less pressure on your lips than a brass or metal one. One potential upside is that braces will force you to practice playing with reduced mouthpiece pressure, which is a technique that elite players master. You might find that after braces, your playing is better than ever.

Trombone

Like a trumpet, a trombone produces sound when a player buzzes his lips into a mouthpiece. But because the mouthpiece tends to be larger than a trumpet’s, the braces interact with the lips less. It may help to mimic the mouth position your lips make when saying “mmm” to ease lip discomfort.

Flute

Because flute players must press their lower lips to the mouthpiece and direct air by blowing it over the hole, the hardware on the lower teeth will affect the angle and force needed to achieve a normal sound. It can be helpful to practice blowing through a coffee straw to learn how to direct the air in a narrow stream. Players who rely on lower lip pressure may need increased breath support to ease lip strain. This can take time to master, so be patient.

Clarinet

Proper clarinet embouchure dictates that your lower lip should cover your lower teeth and act as a cushion between your teeth and the mouthpiece. Braces can make that uncomfortable at first, but your mouth will get used to them. Your embouchure shouldn’t change with the addition of braces, although it might feel different at first. Make sure that you aren’t developing bad articulation habits as you try to avoid your mouth rubbing against the metal. If you’re struggling to achieve the same sound as before braces, a softer reed will often help. 

Saxophone

Saxophone players will experience most of the same challenges and benefit from the same interventions as clarinet players. Saxophone players wearing braces must learn to support their sound with stronger breath and relax their hold on the mouthpiece. Players who bite their bottom lip when playing may experience more pronounced changes in tone quality.

Tips for Adjusting to Playing Your Instrument

Synchronize Your Calendar

It is best to avoid getting your braces put on right before performing. Try to schedule your appointment for after a big event. Similarly, if you know your concert schedule in advance, you can try to make adjustment appointments around those days to avoid tightening your braces the day you are performing.

Practice More for Less

You will need a little extra practice to adjust to playing with your new braces. The more you practice after you get them, the sooner they will cease being an issue and allow you to play normally. After you get used to the difference in how your mouth feels with them while you play, they shouldn’t continue to bother you, and you’ll play without really thinking about them.

Practicing for long periods right after you get your braces can injure your mouth, causing cuts or sores that will take several days to heal, extending the time it will take your mouth to become comfortable while playing with braces. However, don’t overdo it, especially if your mouth is sore. It is better to break your practice into several short sessions.

Adjust Your Embouchure

Reducing the pressure your mouth applies to your instrument can help most players wearing braces. Try playing long, low tones at soft volumes until you are happy with the sound. Work your way up to higher notes slowly, as these will take longer to learn to play with reduced pressure. After a few weeks of practicing this, it will become second nature.

Use More Breath

Most musicians need more forceful breath to compensate for the mouth pressure they applied before braces. This affects woodwinds the most. Many woodwind players wearing braces instinctively hug the mouthpiece harder to prevent the braces from moving the mouth out of place. Learning to loosen the lips and maximize your breath will make you a better musician, even after the braces are off.

Use Wax

Orthodontic wax can be beneficial in dealing with discomfort as your mouth is adjusting to the feeling of playing with braces. Ask your orthodontist to give you extra wax to put over the spots on your braces that press against your lips the most when you play. This can protect the inside of your lips from irritation and sores. Waxing each bracket before you practice might take extra time, but it can be worth it to play without pain.

However, relying too much on wax can become counterproductive. You want the insides of your lips to build calluses that will eliminate discomfort while playing throughout your time in braces. So it’s best, when you can, to practice for a session both with and without wax.

Clean out Condensation

Woodwind and brass players will need to remove their mouthpieces or headjoints more frequently and clean their instruments, as wearing braces will increase condensation inside the instrument. A buildup of condensation will trap liquid in the instrument and cause a gurgling sound while you play.

Consider Braces Alternatives

Suppose you want to avoid most of the inconvenience of playing an instrument while wearing traditional braces. In that case, you can consider alternative treatments to brackets and wires, such as clear aligners.

For more information about orthodontic treatment options, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified orthodontists.

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