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How much practice is needed for soprano?

Jerome

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As a clarinet, alto and tenor player, the soprano is still missing. So, lately I was thinking to pick up soprano as well. Just as a 'side' instrument (actually all saxophones are side instruments to me, clarinet is my 'main' instrument). So during the last weeks I tried some soprano saxes, vintage and modern. But I am surprised of the serious intonation problems I have encountered. I didn't play a single instrument that has not a single or few notes that are completely out of tune. Sometimes the left hand upper octave, sometimes the middle D. It would be quite a challenge to play such an instrument in tune and that would make it impossible for me to play soprano as a side instrument. I simply don't have time to practice a lot on soprano.

As this is the technical forum I wonder how much improvement can be made by technical actions, e.g. reducing pad heights, reducing tone hole sizes?
 

Colin the Bear

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No such animal. It's like playing a Swanee whistle. They are a nightmare. I think especially for doublers with expectations. I was ok with alto, tenor,baritone and clarinet when I added sop. It took me quite a while to get anywhere near comfortable.

Mouthpiece is critical. I've settled on a Selmer S80F. I tried lots.

Mouthpiece position can throw the whole thing out of whack too. As little as 1mm can bring it all together or throw the whole thing out.

Such an absolute pleasure when it comes together. Once your chops and ear develop, about the same practice time as the rest.
 

Tomasz

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The soprano sax is a fairly unforgiving instrument as regards embouchure. You need much more precision re. embouchure (i.e. tighter) to play it well than, say, a tenor. Played well the soprano has a haunting, ethereal sound. Played badly it sounds like a cross between an oboe, a vuvuzela and a duck being strangled. As with so many things, practice is key. That's not to say it can't be done, but there is a bit of a learning curve at first. Fortunately, the rewards are definitely there at the end.

I suspect the intonation problems you experienced were very likely due to your embouchure. Assuming that you were playing a decent-quality soprano sax, then the problem would largely correct itself with practice.

As regards mouthpieces for the soprano, the world is your lobster. I'm very fond of Rico Metalite M9s. They are a high baffle mouthpiece. You can buy them new for silly money - around £35 or so.
 

Jazzaferri

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Listen to the few tunes that Coltrane did on Soprano. His intonation was off. Kinda says it all.

Its a completely different instrument that just happens to have the same keying as a sax LOL
 

Jazzaferri

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If your intonation is important to you and you don't have a lot of time to practise on soprano don't play one.

I have never come across a perfectly intoanted sax. Every one seems to have its quirks The smaller they at the more critical a mm or two becomes. I have found that the mpce used seems to impact which notes require more correction. Having said all that setup on any horn is important

I played soprano exclusively for my first two years in college practicing several hours a day and only toward the end felt that my intonation was good.
 
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trimmy

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I played soprano exclusively for my first two years in college practicing several hours a day and only toward the end felt that my intonation was good.
Oh my !! :eek:
Anyone like to buy a Sop !!!
 

saxyjt

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Oh my !! :eek:
Anyone like to buy a Sop !!!

If I realized how much time it takes, I'm not sure I'd even started to play a musical instrument!

But at least now I know how much fun there is, even counting the frustration along the way and the fact that after 5 years at it, I'm certain that I'll spend another 10 years before I can claim to play decently. :sax:
 

nigeld

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I played soprano exclusively for my first two years in college practicing several hours a day and only toward the end felt that my intonation was good.

Not having such a critical ear cuts down the required practice time enormously. :)

This is partly meant seriously. Apart from the palm key notes, I haven't noticed that my soprano is harder to play in tune than the others (e.g. tenor). It may well be that when I am practicing on my own I am not so fussy about tuning, but I played sop in a quartet last week and tuning didn't seem like a big problem to me. (Of course, the other 3 players might have a different opinion.)
 

Jonesy

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At first I found I was using up all my time getting the damn thing to agree with the tuner (almost a half tone flat even with the mouthpiece pushed right up to the octave hole), so now I don't bother with that and I just blow away regardless, sitting back in an easy chair while watching telly.
I don't intend to play it in public for a while yet, if ever, much prefer the tenor.
 

David Roach

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London
As a clarinet, alto and tenor player, the soprano is still missing. So, lately I was thinking to pick up soprano as well. Just as a 'side' instrument (actually all saxophones are side instruments to me, clarinet is my 'main' instrument). So during the last weeks I tried some soprano saxes, vintage and modern. But I am surprised of the serious intonation problems I have encountered. I didn't play a single instrument that has not a single or few notes that are completely out of tune. Sometimes the left hand upper octave, sometimes the middle D. It would be quite a challenge to play such an instrument in tune and that would make it impossible for me to play soprano as a side instrument. I simply don't have time to practice a lot on soprano.

As this is the technical forum I wonder how much improvement can be made by technical actions, e.g. reducing pad heights, reducing tone hole sizes?

There are some aspects of soprano sax that will always be a challenge: the embouchure pressure necessary to play soprano well is something that is almost impossible to reduce to the point where one does not sometimes bite into one's lower lip after a period of time playing. I play a gig that requires me to play two sets of 45mins pretty much non-stop on soprano and it hurts, there is no denying it. To operate correctly, the soprano needs a firm embouchure and a correspondingly firm reed.

But...I personally reject the idea that the soprano is a difficult instrument to play per-se. I find the clarinet far more challenging! If one can cope with playing over the registers on the clarinet one can probably cope with a sharp middle D. Just open the throat as one would for middle B on the clarinet or middle D on alto or tenor.

Don't go vintage at this point. A modern Yamaha (EX or Z) or a Yanagisawa soprano is a very easy instrument to play and should present no serious issues to someone with some experience of other instruments. There is no need to mess with key heights apart from maybe in the palm keys where it can help without impacting on other octaves. N.B. The palm keys are quite opposite to the clarinet, one must open the throat for them and bring the pitch down while keeping the embouchure solid and firm. But, if one flattens the middle D by adjusting the height of the low C cup, the low D will probably become unplayably flat.

What really matters is the correct mouthpiece in conjunction with a reed that supports the entire range of the instrument. Reeds are no problem. plenty of well made soprano reeds available. You could be lucky and find a mouthpiece off the shelf that works well, but if you seriously want to play soprano you may have to look harder or get something bespoke. Choice of mouthpiece on soprano is somewhat less influenced by musical taste than on alto and tenor - i.e. it's more important to find something that just actually works properly than it is to go for a mouthpiece that is advertised as a 'classical' or a 'jazz' mouthpiece. My recommendation for something 'off the shelf' is for Vandorens or Pillingers, there's a lot to choose from, from close tips to wide ones at reasonable prices.

To put my money where my mouth is, here is a clip of a Selmer series 3 soprano played with approximately a 'D' (.051") tip mouthpiece made by Joe Giardullo at SopranoPlanet.com.

Best of luck!
 

Jeanette

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There are some aspects of soprano sax that will always be a challenge: the embouchure pressure necessary to play soprano well is something that is almost impossible to reduce to the point where one does not sometimes bite into one's lower lip after a period of time playing. I play a gig that requires me to play two sets of 45mins pretty much non-stop on soprano and it hurts, there is no denying it. To operate correctly, the soprano needs a firm embouchure and a correspondingly firm reed.

So pleased you said that as I sometimes find myself biting at the end of a longish session and keep thinking I've got something dreadfully wrong :)

Jx
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
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At first I found I was using up all my time getting the damn thing to agree with the tuner


Isn't that how the original coining of the phrase "its close enough for Jazz" came about? :sax:
 

saxyjt

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Soprano is the most challenging size but ....... when it's played as it should its magical.

I don't know if I play it as it should, but on Saturday my teacher at the 'conservatoire' told me that I was playing the soprano better that any other sax. I wasn't absolutely sure how I should take it :eek:, but I took it as a compliment! :D

I have been attempting to use my latest piece at the conservatoire (a Rondo) as an excuse to work on soprano and commit to it for a little while. I certainly don't feel too happy about my performance so far, but what she said was at least encouraging. So I will persevere and as some of you guys said the soprano helps play better on tenor, I will just accept that as another good reason to keep on going... I must say that I do enjoy it.

But I will most certainly be diverted to the tenor in the next few days as I'm on may way to pick one up this coming Friday... >:)
 

jbtsax

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There is a strong tendency for a player whose main instrument is the clarinet to play the soprano sax in much the same way. A key difference between the two is that the clarinet plays at the top of its pitch. The soprano does not---meaning there is still a bit of room to lip notes up. While a clarinet player keeps the head erect with the instrument down at a 45 degree angle, the soprano must be played with the head tilting down so that the mouthpiece goes nearly straight into the mouth. The mouthpiece pitch of the soprano sax is concert C. The instrument should be tuned using that embouchure setting. Many players play too high on the input pitch, pull the mouthpiece out too far to tune, and then complain that their palm key notes are flat. A good way to tune the soprano is to tune to A concert (written first finger B) and then check the overtones of the low B fingering: B2-F#2-B3. If those match up to A=440 you are off to a good start. Even then, playing the soprano is a lot like playing the oboe or singing. Every note requires careful listening and adjusting whenever necessary.
 

Guenne

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In my opinion getting a very good soprano is the first step.
I play my Yanagisawa 981 twice a year, and can pick it up without having any intonation issues.
Second you must have learned the absolute basics of saxophone playing in regards of airstream, embouchure, as @jbtsax mentioned. Learning them on a different size of sax may be easier though :)
And still: all your - let's call it challenges - appear most clearly on the soprano. No - on Bass clarinet, but that's a different beast, hehe.

Cheers, Guenne
 

David Roach

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There is a strong tendency for a player whose main instrument is the clarinet to play the soprano sax in much the same way. A key difference between the two is that the clarinet plays at the top of its pitch. The soprano does not---meaning there is still a bit of room to lip notes up. While a clarinet player keeps the head erect with the instrument down at a 45 degree angle, the soprano must be played with the head tilting down so that the mouthpiece goes nearly straight into the mouth. ......

I disagree to an extent with jbtsax's post (although I do not mean to be rude).

Although clarinet and soprano do require different approaches, in my experience as a full time soprano sax player it is not correct to say that soprano MUST be played with the mouthpiece going almost straight into the mouth (right-angles) even though it can be played that way of course. Plenty of classical players including myself (when playing classically) use a somewhat steeper angle. OK, not as steep as some people play the clarinet, but steeper than I use when playing other music that requires a looser approach. Classical soprano, and even classical alto to an extent, need to operate on a very different level of refinement and clarity which is better produced with a steeper angle, partly because the lower lip is a little more turned in and partly because the jaw operates in a somewhat different way - providing a consistent steady mild pressure to support the lip.This is quite clear if you look at the embouchures of classical players in comparison to those of jazz players whose jaws often move in and out considerably between registers. A steep angle would prohibit this jaw movement. In other words 'horses for courses....' :)
 

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