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Saxophones What is the difference between the different types of saxophones?

ProfJames

Elementary member
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That is, if I can play an alto would I naturally be able to play a tenor, baritone or soprano?
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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The main difference is pitch, hence size.

Saxes are transposing instruments, so the fingering is the same for all saxes, assuming you're playing from a part for your instrument.

In playing, the difference is firstly the pitch - most saxes are in either Eb (Bari/alto/sopranino) or Bb (Bass/tenor/soprano), although some can be found in C (C melody or C tenor, soprano) or F (really rare). This can take some getting used to when you switch from one to another.

Second difference is in blowing/embouchure - smaller saxes require less air at higher pressure and a tighter embouchure, bigger saxes take more air at lower pressure with looser embouchure.

Size of the mouthpiece can be a factor as well, as can the dimensions/weight of the instruments.

But if you want to, you should be able to play all if you can play one. But I'd suggest concentrating on one for a while, then adding a second later as you progress, otherwise it'll really mess you around. And you'll need to practice on the new ones to get used to the differences.

Sax players often play other instruments as well - like flute, clarinet...
 

Tenor Viol

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Sort of...;}

Because most saxes are transposing instruments (i.e. not the 'Melody' which is a 'C' instrument) the notes for each are written the same, so the fingering is the same across the instruments.

Embouchure and associated technique will vary to some extent - generally getting fussier the higher in pitch. The bigger instruments need more breath support and air.

I'm sure the experts will be along to provide better, more informed, guidance.

EDIT: Kev posted whilst I was writing this...
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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...
Because most saxes are transposing instruments (i.e. not the 'Melody' which is a 'C' instrument) the notes for each are written the same, so the fingering is the same across the instruments.
Just to be picky, the C Mel is a transposiing instrument, it plays an octave down from concert pitch. The C sop is in concert pitch fwiw.
 

Colin the Bear

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In theory what works on one works on another. In practice it may not work out like that.

Of the popular ones they sit well together in pairs. The Bari with the alto and the tenor with the sop. I've played alto for decades and the addition of a baritone early on felt simple and straight forward. I was happy from the get go with these two and the clarinet. However for me the tenor was a different animal.

I struggled with tenor off and on with varying degrees of success for years but the addition of a curvy sop this summer inspired me to have another go at tenor and it seems to be going well this time.

They all have a personality that needs to be accommodated and it takes me a phrase or two to switch embouchure and a chorus or two to get comfortable.

The mouthpiece and reed set up for each one is a challenge till you find it.

I like having a "set". It feels complete, apart from the quiet longing for a bass.
 

ProfJames

Elementary member
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12,088
So a baritone sax would be very similar to playing an alto? Then why do so many alto players appear to play tenor as well? Purely the challenge?
 

ProfJames

Elementary member
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12,088
How difficult is the soprano to the tenor, etc and what is the difference between them all? Is soprano very difficult to learn? Is it harder than tenor?

Sorry if I am being thick!


I struggled with tenor off and on with varying degrees of success for years but the addition of a curvy sop this summer inspired me to have another go at tenor and it seems to be going well this time.

They all have a personality that needs to be accommodated and it takes me a phrase or two to switch embouchure and a chorus or two to get comfortable.

The mouthpiece and reed set up for each one is a challenge till you find it.

I like having a "set". It feels complete, apart from the quiet longing for a bass.
 

Colin the Bear

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Tenor and sop are an octave apart. Same with alto and Bari.

Tenor and alto are usually the lead instruments. The heroes of the band if you will and the ones that most look like a saxophone to most eyes.

Alto is lady's voice, Tenor is man's voice. Same as singing I suppose, the best parts on the whole are for these voices.

The Baritone is quite expensive compared to alto and tenor. The G4m alto and tenor come in around the £200 mark. The Baritone is £800. Lord knows what a Yam or Yani or BW costs. I don't even want to know they're so far out of my price range.

Then there's the physicality of the Baritone. It's a large lump of metal to have slung round your neck and an unwieldy beast to transport. Having said this, the first time I heard Gerry Mulligan I wanted one and once you get one you hear them everywhere.

The soprano is an acquired taste. A distinctive and slightly quirky sound and so high at the top. Sounds great on the right piece but not as versatile as the others imo. My curvy looks a little comical and the straight too like a clarinet for me.

As for how hard are they to learn, I suppose that's very personal. I could play the alto after 5 mins with it, being familiar with the clarinet helped. The Baritone seemed a logical progression and didn't take long to adjust to, The tenor has been a challenge and the soprano the same.

The difficulty level never came into it for me. I love the saxophone in all it's guises. I love them all. I will become competent on them all, if I live long enough.
 

ProfJames

Elementary member
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Thank you Colin, much appreciated as ever. Now....what is the difference between a curved soprano and a straight one?!
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Thank you Colin, much appreciated as ever. Now....what is the difference between a curved soprano and a straight one?!
Difficult question.... let me guess..... is one curved?
Not really:
Curved soprano is a saxophone
Straight soprano is a golden clarinet

The fact that they have the same keywork, fingering, technique, and a very similar sound will not change the perception of a large part of the audience.
 
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Colin the Bear

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The main difference when playing is arm position. The curvy is more like a short alto with arms close in while the straight is more forward with the arms in a more clarinet position. I find the curvy hangs better on the sling for me.
 

aldevis

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The main difference when playing is arm position. The curvy is more like a short alto with arms close in while the straight is more forward with the arms in a more clarinet position. I find the curvy hangs better on the sling for me.
OK, OK. I will be serious too...

I find the curved has a slightly darker sound (generally speaking). The weight is easier to balance, but I don't use a sling on soprano. It is easier to carry around.

A huge difference comes in a live setting from the sound engineer; with a straight soprano, 82% of sound men manage to give you a horrible sound, like that thing you blow at parties. You can hear it on some Miles Davis's videos from the early 70s, where someone butchered Grossman's and Liebman's sounds. I think on a Herbie Hancock album something similar happens to Bennie Maupin.

When the sound man sees a curved soprano, he/she simply thinks it is a saxophone and puts the microphone in an almost correct position.

To be clear: never, never, and I mean never point a microphone up the bell of a straight soprano. Sound people do it to have more signal, but the sound is unacceptable. Often it is impossible to let them understand it, but this is probably due to drugs use in the early stages of their profession.
 

TomMapfumo

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5,219
A general point - the smaller the sax the more precise the intonation. Hence a soprano sax may sound/be less in tune than an alto, then tenor, then baritone. This is one reason as to why people who start on alto sax often shift to tenor and prefer the sound that they make.

Due to different mouthpiece material, a metal tenor sax mouthpiece is virtually the same size as an ebonite soprano mouthpiece, and makes it easier on the embouchure when switching between the two.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
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12,125
A general point - the smaller the sax the more precise the intonation. Hence a soprano sax may sound/be less in tune than an alto, then tenor, then baritone.
"At college, I started on soprano, but I couldn't play in tune at all. I improved a bit on alto, better on tenor. Eventually I picked up baritone, and everything was finally fine"

Pepper Adams
(He told me this himself, back in the 80s)
 

Clivey

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1,022
"At college, I started on soprano, but I couldn't play in tune at all. I improved a bit on alto, better on tenor. Eventually I picked up baritone, and everything was finally fine"

Pepper Adams
(He told me this himself, back in the 80s)

Only Good advice if you want to shrink in height and develop neck muscles like the Hulk


Ignore Pepper. and google Aldevis or check his website:)))

http://www.aldevis.com/refuso.html


Way way too humble a guy.Not many alive or dead can play a Sop Sax that that.


re straight. If you are getting Old, straight will hurt shoulders like hell. Exasperates arthritis I think.
 
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ProfJames

Elementary member
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12,088
You would not recommend "experimenting" with a soprano while learning the alto then?
 

TomMapfumo

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5,219
You would not recommend "experimenting" with a soprano while learning the alto then?
I experimented with Alto whilst learning the Soprano at the start - or after 6 months. No need to rush, otherwise you are more likely to develop GAS rather than musicianship. I first started on soprano and experimented with reeds (eventually preferred the Vandoren ZZ's reeds of those I tried), mouthpieces (chose a Berg Larsen 65/2), and ligatures (chose a Rovner Dark). Mainly I learned how to play the instrument and then decided to get an Alto 6 months later, which is my main sax.

So take your time, unless you are in a rush for some reason.:thumb:
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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A general point - the smaller the sax the more precise the intonation. Hence a soprano sax may sound/be less in tune than an alto, then tenor, then baritone. This is one reason as to why people who start on alto sax often shift to tenor and prefer the sound that they make.

Due to different mouthpiece material, a metal tenor sax mouthpiece is virtually the same size as an ebonite soprano mouthpiece, and makes it easier on the embouchure when switching between the two.
The same is true of string instruments - at higher pitch, the notes are physically closer together (i.e. distance apart on string). This means the margin of error is smaller.

I don't have too many problems with bass or tenor viol, but I find the treble (which I've tried a couple of times) tricky because the notes are physically much closer together and intonation is much trickier (for reference, the treble viol is one octave higher than the bass and a fifth higher than the tenor).

Same with columns of air - as you get higher in pitch, the length of the column of vibrating air is getting shorter. If A had a wavelength of say one metre, then A' would be 0.5 metre, A'' 0.25 metre etc. This means that a given variation in vibrating length has a bigger impact at high pitches.

Hope that makes sense!
 
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