Soprano & sopranino saxophone reviews
The soprano and its even smaller relative,
the sopranino, are the smallest of the sax family. Following the
Eb/Bb pattern of saxes, the soprano is pitched in Bb, the 'nino
in Eb. In band situations where there are no dedicated parts, the
soprano can use either the tenor sax parts, or, more effectively,
the trumpet parts.
horns come in two body shapes - the common and traditional straight
variant and the more recent curved format.
Variations on the theme provide horns with straight bodies and slightly
curved necks - and modern version often have removable crooks or
necks in both straight and curved versions. Some sopranos have featured
a slight upward curve to the bell too.
Most modern horns feature a sling or neckstrap ring.
The soprano is by far the most popular of the pair; the 'nino is
really rather small and many players find it a rather cramped affair
trying to get their fingers onto the keys. The 'nino is also inclined
to be very expensive, hard to build accurately and quite limited
in terms of there being much for it to do. It can also sound rather
thin and shrill.
It's often said by sax players that the alto, tenor and baritone
are largely interchangeable. That's to say that if you can play
well on one, you can play well on any of the others. This is true
in the broadest sense, though it's also the case that each instrument
has its own subtleties that might be lost by a player for whom it
isn't their primary instrument.
That subtleties can be lost is even more true of the soprano - and
I would go so far as to say that it's perhaps the most individual
of the saxes, and really benefits from being played by someone for
whom the soprano sax is their sole instrument.
The chief reason for this is the need for particular accuracy with
regard to tuning. Soprano saxes are liable to be slightly 'wild'
when it comes to tuning, and need a decent embouchure to rein them
in. The tone also requires and benefits from a great deal of practice
- and at its best the soprano can give a very passable impression
of an oboe (both instruments share a tapered bore design, which
goes partway to explaining the similarity). It should be noted that
sopranos and sopraninos will require a decent mouthpiece if there
is to be any chance of pitching accurately with good tone.
That's not to say that people should avoid the instrument - there
are many players who double very successfully on the soprano - and
many players buy them because they're small, light and comparatively
easy to carry around.
In many respects the soprano ought to be the ideal saxophone for
a young child to start on - a curved soprano can be easily handled
by the average pre-teenager - but it's not the most forgiving of
the saxes, and in terms of tone and tuning would probably be on
a par with the experience suffered by many a parent whose child
has taken up the violin.
For a great many years it was widely considered impossible to find
a decent soprano for much less than four figures - but with the
advent of Ultra-Cheap
horns from China the marketplace has changed considerably. It's
now entirely possible to buy a workable soprano for around £300.
And it's not just students who are taking advantage of this phenomenon
- there's many a professional out there who is using a Ultra Cheap
soprano on the basis that it's not worth spending a grand or more
on a horn that they'll only use very occasionally.
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