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SYOS

The Soprano Saxophone - Small in size, but a beast all the same!

PMason247

New Member
Messages
14
Hello
I have been playing saxophone for a number of years now, but on Tenor.
Since lockdown kicked in due to Covid-19, I thought I would use the time to learn Soprano.

It's more diffuclt that I first thought! So any tips on intonation, which seems to be very difficult to master, and tone?
I have a Conn-Selmer Avant 200, which seems like a good horn, and I'm using a Rico M7 (which maybe the start of my issues).
I have an Ed Pillinger PJ mouthpiece coming soon, so I'm hopeful this will help.

Thanks
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
25,715
Welcome to the cafe

Ed's, pieces are good. I guess long tones will be standard advice :)

I've not played tenor but suspect sop will require a tighter embouchure than you might be used to.

Jx
 
OP
PMason247

PMason247

New Member
Messages
14
Thanks @Jeanette!
Yes, the standard.... Lots of long tones, in front of a tuner I think!
I'm looking forward to receiving the mouthpiece, and I see that you play the same model.
How do you find the tone and intonation?
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
25,715
I don't have any problems with that mouthpiece. I have been told on more that one occasion my tuning is good, as an amateur I don't really have the confidence to know. I do need to develop my tone though but that's me not mouthpiece!

Jx
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
25,715
I should have mentioned, Ed and @Pete Thomas collaborated to develop the PPT mouthpieces (available on TTS) which Ed makes, you might like one of those too. I switch between the two :)

Jx
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,042
The sax is an imperfect instrument. The higher the pitch of the sax (like soprano) the worse that becomes in terms of intonation/tuning. With a keyboard or good string instrument you hit the note and it comes out perfectly (if you're in tune to begin with). Playing tenor is much less difficult as you can literally just blow, key a note, and the pitch is kind of close to being right. With each of the higher pitched horns you must HEAR the note you are playing in order to play it in tune. A tuner will NOT help when you are not in front of it. You must hear the pitch accurately in order to make embouchure and body (oral cavity, tongue, throat, etc.) adjustments or you will never play in tune. Some people mistake this for needing perfect pitch...it's not. It's much more like singing or whistling where you hear the pitch you want and make it happen. You are developing a feedback system in YOUR body in order to hear the correct pitch.

If you are only reading music and strictly developing an eye to hand reaction without hearing the note you are trying to play, then you will never play in tune. The tuner is the worst thing to use as you are once again only using your eyes instead of your ears to make corrections. How is that going to work when you can't see the tuner?

If you can whistle or sing with relative accuracy then you should be able to develop the same feedback system to play any sax in tune. Long tones are always a good practice, but if you want to play in tune, intervals are much more important. There are a number of "ear training" exercises that can be found on the web, or you can also just play tunes you know that have lots of intervals where you MUST hear the note in your head and are listening intently to hear whether you are accurately achieving that pitch with a consistent good tone.

If you are "tone deaf", which is certainly a common condition, then you will never be able to play a high pitched sax in tune. Switch to a tuned instrument that you don't have to fight with or just play a lower pitch sax with closer (but not usually 100% accurate) tuning.
 

SeanLR

Member
Messages
33
Hello
I have been playing saxophone for a number of years now, but on Tenor.
Since lockdown kicked in due to Covid-19, I thought I would use the time to learn Soprano.

It's more diffuclt that I first thought! So any tips on intonation, which seems to be very difficult to master, and tone?
I have a Conn-Selmer Avant 200, which seems like a good horn, and I'm using a Rico M7 (which maybe the start of my issues).
I have an Ed Pillinger PJ mouthpiece coming soon, so I'm hopeful this will help.

Thanks

Hi, At my very first sax lesson ( alto ) my tutor saw my soprano sat in the corner and after having me blow a few notes on it, said we would make that my learning instrument from there on. This was a shock to me as I'd been playing alto for a year, and I really struggled bad on soprano. I was actually selling it but he asked me to hold off for a couple of weeks.

Next lesson he came in with some soft reeds and a Lawton ebonite mouthpiece. It wasn't a particulary open lay, but wider than the one that came with my sop. The reeds were 1.5's and these REALLY helped me dial into the intonation issues that he (and I) observed the week before. After another week or so, intonation was no longer a major hurdle.

I started on soprano again this year after maybe a decade and I had the same issues so I reverted back to a softer reed. My mouthpiece is a 6* and once again, my intonation issues have all but gone, so I've stepped upto a 2 reed.
As you have Tenor chops, it 'might' work for you switching to a softer sop reed, and not having too much of an open m/p lay. For some players it works the other way, but for the price of a softer reed, it's worth a try :)
The only issues I encountered, as you learn to control the softer reed, they tend to gargle a bit more when soaked and the higher up you push, they occasionally jam shut but if it gets you over the intonation control, it's a small price.
 
OP
PMason247

PMason247

New Member
Messages
14
The sax is an imperfect instrument. The higher the pitch of the sax (like soprano) the worse that becomes in terms of intonation/tuning. With a keyboard or good string instrument you hit the note and it comes out perfectly (if you're in tune to begin with). Playing tenor is much less difficult as you can literally just blow, key a note, and the pitch is kind of close to being right. With each of the higher pitched horns you must HEAR the note you are playing in order to play it in tune. A tuner will NOT help when you are not in front of it. You must hear the pitch accurately in order to make embouchure and body (oral cavity, tongue, throat, etc.) adjustments or you will never play in tune. Some people mistake this for needing perfect pitch...it's not. It's much more like singing or whistling where you hear the pitch you want and make it happen. You are developing a feedback system in YOUR body in order to hear the correct pitch.

If you are only reading music and strictly developing an eye to hand reaction without hearing the note you are trying to play, then you will never play in tune. The tuner is the worst thing to use as you are once again only using your eyes instead of your ears to make corrections. How is that going to work when you can't see the tuner?

If you can whistle or sing with relative accuracy then you should be able to develop the same feedback system to play any sax in tune. Long tones are always a good practice, but if you want to play in tune, intervals are much more important. There are a number of "ear training" exercises that can be found on the web, or you can also just play tunes you know that have lots of intervals where you MUST hear the note in your head and are listening intently to hear whether you are accurately achieving that pitch with a consistent good tone.

If you are "tone deaf", which is certainly a common condition, then you will never be able to play a high pitched sax in tune. Switch to a tuned instrument that you don't have to fight with or just play a lower pitch sax with closer (but not usually 100% accurate) tuning.
Thanks for the tips! And yes, I agree with all of them.
I'm using a tuner as reference, to glance at when I "hear" that the note feels in tune. Mostly it is, but I really need to concentrate. I dont read music (well, I do, but not much) since I mostly imporvising.

BTW - I should have added, I've been playing Tenor for 30 years, and I and very aware that the Soprano is a different beast. Long notes to build the chops, intervals to build the ears!

Thanks
 

CliveMA

Member
Messages
507
Long notes to build the chops, intervals to build the ears!
Plus (compared with Tenor):

Gentle articulation or else soprano sounds like a beginner instead of sweet

Mouthpiece/reed/ligature positioning accurate to the mm or else squeeks/warbles

Oral cavity skills or else palm keys will never be in tune

Experiment with more or less mouthpiece in mouth and angle of mouthpiece entering the mouth, with ligature up and down, reed at tip, below and above tip.

Oral cavity skills can be developed with mouthpiece exercises, overtones, and as part of long tones practice.
 
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PMason247

PMason247

New Member
Messages
14
Thanks to all for the tips. Very helpful!
Now I just need to apply these various techniques, and expect a good few months of hard graft!
New Mouthpiece arrives today, Rigotti reeds arrived yesterday, so looking forward to cracking on.
Now that I had the mindset that this is a new instrument, very much like when I started Flute, so I'm good with that.

I'll let you know how I get on. One last question from me.
I always like to find players to emulate, like Joe Henderson or Sonny Rollins (in the early days) for Tenor, who would be a good Soprano player in your mind?
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,273
Occasional use of a tuner when a specific problem can't be sorted is useful and helps with muscle memory. No, it won't necessarily help when all alone in the "real" world but it can help show where you need to be. All the other stuff that Wade talked about is spot on. The biggest mistake made by soprano players is not having the mouthpiece far enough on the crook. It actually looks very wrong in comparison to the other saxes but intonation within the instrument will be way off if the sweet spot isn't found.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,273
who would be a good Soprano player in your mind?
Depends on your preference for style. There's Sidney Bechet with the fast vibrato that fits in nicely with the clarinet playing of the "old school" along to Branford Marsalis, who is a bit of a Chameleon, in that he often plays in a similar fashion to Bechet when playing older standards, yet also plays in quite a classical style with vibrato or sometimes with less. Brandon Fields plays great on soprano, as does Kirk Whalum, Eric Marienthal, Everette Harp and this guy Seamus Blake:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID5ZRP5bNv8
 

CliveMA

Member
Messages
507
The biggest mistake made by soprano players is not having the mouthpiece far enough on the crook.
+1 sortof see below.

Having the mouthpiece further on the cork forces the lower jaw and lower lip to relax in order to play in tune and effectively prevents second octave biting. This allows the reed to vibrate more fully, giving a fuller sound throughout the range.

But the other big error when coming from Tenor is taking the wrong amount of mouthpiece into the mouth for the tip opening size. Too little and you choke the reed. Too much and you sound like a trumpet.

The Soprano mouthpiece seems so tiny compared with a Tenor mouthpiece that the natural tendency is to swallow the little Soprano mouthpiece. This tendency is compounded if, like most, your chosen Soprano mouthpiece is relatively closed and your Tenor mouthpiece is relatively open. Use the good old, "Slide a piece of paper between the reed and the mouthpiece to see where the curve starts. Mark it with a pencil and use your thumb to position your lip." Do this until you get used to how radically different it feels compared with a Tenor mouthpiece. Experiment around this starter position as it is only a guide.
 

CliveMA

Member
Messages
507
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