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.
Both 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
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
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 quite a respectable soprano for around £200.
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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