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Thread: Saxophone, an easy instrument?

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    Default Saxophone, an easy instrument?

    My roomate plays trumpet, i play tenor. We always play together, we're both pretty advanced. We have a lot of arguments about the difficulty of playing some instrument. He maintains that the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play, and that saxophone is relatively easy (just pushing" on the keys). Anyway the confrotation never goes anywhere. I'd like to know what some of you think about it. He makes some pretty valid points, do i just have to accept the truth?

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    You are both right in saying that your respective instruments are harder than the other.

    As one quote puts it... "It is easy to play the saxophone, but it is a lot harder to play it well"

    If the saxophone were as easy as your partner says it is, then buy him a reed, and let him have it on your sax. We'll see how well he does,
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  3. #3

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    I once heard it said that the Guitar was the easiest instrument to learn and the hardest to master.

    I don't play trumpet but I know there are some differences.
    One being that on trumpet you have to 'hear the note' to play it as opposed to the sax where you basically just finger the right keys to play the note. The big exception I guess would be playing altisimo (in that case you do have to 'hear' the note to play it as well)

    Also, the embrasure I think is harder on trumpet as well, but as far as it being the hardest, I think that is an overstatement. (try playing an oboe or bassoon, with a double reed)

    on the other hand, with a trumpet you basicly grab your horn, stick a mouthpiece on and your good to go. Let your room mate spend hours and mucho $$ on boxes of reeds only to find one or two that play for a week or so. Then spend even more money trying to find just the right mouth piece and reed combo, and on and on...

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    A topic loaded with controversy . . . NEAT!

    I don't think I'll venture into what's easy and what's hard, but rather deal with the music each has to play. Coming from a clarinet background, I know that clarinet players (and trumpet players) are expected to do the 32nd note passages and tongue at unbelievable speeds. That's what you've got to do to be a "good" player. A sax player, on the other hand, can expressively play a relatively simple line and he (or she) sounds great! So I think you can probably find more trumpet/clarinet/flute folks that have incredible technical mastery than you can sax players. But sax players sound better anyway - at least in the kind of music I listen to most often.

    Of course, there are loads of sax players that can do the technical stuff as well. My point is that a great sax solo doesn't have to be all that technically difficult to sound good. I heard a guy on TV the other night - he was having a ball playing. He had a great sound, and I'm sure that wasn't by accident. But although he was the featured artist on the number, his part was really very simple and repetitive. So it wasn't that sax was easy for him, but rather that it didn't take a technical genius to sound great.

    BTW, I'm having a lot more fun on sax than I did on clarinet!

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    I recently had the same arguement with a trumpet playing friend of mine. We have until the beginning of December to see if I can play trumpet better than he cn play sax.
    Sincerely, your local Lame Alto Busker

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    I play both the Saxophone and the Coronet/Trumpet, and I would say in all honesty that they are both about the same in difficulty, with the Trumpet actually being a bit easier than the two in my opinion. I know that some people have a bit of trouble developing the proper embouchure for cup mouth instruments given their lip structure etc. but it came rather easy for me.
    While I play many instruments, the Saxophone is still my favorite, regardless.
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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Saxus Envious Curmudgeonum Randall's Avatar
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    For a beginner, the sax is by far easier than trumpet.
    Common sense would dictate otherwise though- a trumpet has only 3 valves compared to the numerous keys on a sax. But it is the necessary lip movement / fingering combinations and paucity of "keys" on the trumpet that actually makes it "harder". One fingering can yield several different notes depending on your embouchure. That's hard.

    To give all non-brass players a bit to think about....think of Rascher's keyless sax and how hard that thing is to play! Rascher had no keys at all and could play 4 octaves on it!!!
    I dare say most sax players would probably get a nice farting sound out of it.....
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    Rascher's keyless sax was essentially the same as any other alto (with no leaks) playing a low Bb. Any decent player should be able to play a good part of the overtone series on it, which was all that Rasher used it for (demonstrating overtones). I don't think it would be any harder to play than any other sax, but you would be limited to only playing the overtone series.

    That being said, four octaves in very hard and very impressive by any horn.

  9. #9

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    There's no such thing as an "easy" intrument. There isnt one that could be mastered fully, so any argument is pointless.

    I do agree, however, that beginning on saxaphone is probably easier then most other instruments. For example, when I began on the oboe, it was hard not to have an obnoxious sound. With the sax it isn't hard to have a bearable sound. And when it comes to a brass intrument, i feel that tone is even less of an issue.

    And in response to Fred: what do you meen saxaphone players aren't expected to play fast? Jazz saxaphonists are expected to be able to play at BeBop speeds, and you cant get much more technically challenging than that. And you say a sax solo doesnt have to be technically difficult to sound good, but I think you could say the same about any other instrument.

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    I was afraid that my statement would be misunderstood . . . and it's really difficult to put what I'm trying (poorly) to say into words. Note first that I did acknowledge the technical accomplishments of many sax players. I'm just saying that there's many sax players that sound great, bring great pleasure to their audiences, and contribute greatly to their group's sound without having to tongue sixteenth notes at 140 beats per minute. For me, I feel saxophone is an instrument that is more about music and less about technical exercises. And I think that's a good thing.

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    I've always thought that was one of the great things about Miles Davis. He knew when to NOT play notes. He understood that 10 notes can be better than 50 notes. I wish Coltrane had learned that from him. So maybe it's not just the sax that can sound good without a gaggle of 16th notes.

  12. #12

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    In all due respect there seems to be a lot more technique involved in the embouchure and air support for a trumpet than the saxophone. There is a lot of the same things in saxophone, but a lot of players dont really invest the time into it. I get the idea from talking to a lot of brass players that being a jazz sax player is playing fast thoughtless runs. (not talking at the professional level)
    Once a certain level is reached for both instruments, we both agree that it is just as hard to make it to the next level. But he is saying it takes a lot more time to reach that level. Isn't it true that there are a lot more good sax improvisers than trumpet improvisers, it is especially obvious in jam session, and at a professional level. It takes a lot more time for a trumpet player to be able to sightread an Parker solo than for a sax player.
    I appreciate your comment, i still havent found a good rebuttal. All i have right now, which i belive to be true having played a brass instrument for a year is that it is easier to play what you hear. 8)

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    One reason why I still stand behind my statement that the Trumpet is actually easier, is because it is more akin to singing or whistling than the Sax. By this I mean that it is even more critical with cup mouth instruments that you IMAGINE the note before you play them. This sounds as though it takes more effort, but in fact it makes the playing less mechanical and more "organic" in feeling, for lack of a better term. As far as different notes being achieved with the same valve fingering, this is no different than overblowing on a flute, or natural intervals on most other wind instruments. Once you get it down pat, it is very natural and flexible.
    As I said before, not everyone takes to the buzzing lips action as well as others, and for me it was quite natural; however once the embouchure has been attained to a basic level, much of the trumpet technique can be learned rather quickly, IMHO.
    Regardless, Benny Carter didn't seem to have much trouble with either instrument. Wish I could say I was in league with his playing
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randall
    To give all non-brass players a bit to think about....think of Rascher's keyless sax and how hard that thing is to play! Rascher had no keys at all and could play 4 octaves on it!!!
    I dare say most sax players would probably get a nice farting sound out of it.....
    Try it for yourselves,

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    Unison makes a keyless saxophone. You can see it at:
    http://www.unisonsaxophone.com/keyless.html
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randall
    To give all non-brass players a bit to think about....think of Rascher's keyless sax and how hard that thing is to play! Rascher had no keys at all and could play 4 octaves on it!!!
    I dare say most sax players would probably get a nice farting sound out of it.....

    I would take all this with a grain of salt.

    Firstly: 4 octaves.... such claims of what Rascher could do are in the category of legend, and very likely well embellished.

    Secondly, one would have to have to seriously question just how the work 'play'' is defined, for even third octave notes, let alone 4th octave, where they could be little more than semi-controlled squeaks.

    Thirdly. A saxophone has a wide and tapered bore, SPECIFICALLY designed to need keys, for playing loudly and easily in the first 2 1/2 harmonics. The trumpet, by comparison, has a narrow bore and basically cylindrical, to play a lot more easily in the higher harmonics. (A French horn does this more so.) By comparison, a trumpet is pathetic instrument in the first harmonic, where a sax thrives. Many notes in this first harmonic range are not even available on trumpet.

    By taking the tone holes off a sax you are tying to make it behave more like a trumpet, and then saying that the difficulty of playing it in this state proves that a trumpet is more difficult. Now let's turn the tables... Give a trumpet a very wide bore, i.e. more like a sax, and wonder why it is now so much more difficult to play. Does this demonstrate that the sax is the more difficult instrument? I think mnot... such devices of comparison are completely without foundation.

    These instruments are as different in their acoustic design as cucumbers and carrots.

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    sw3119, the horn in that eBay ad's an Armstrong. Rascher's keyless horn was specifically designed for him by Buescher -- Rascher was a Buescher endorsing artist.

    I'm essentially a 2nd AND 3rd generation Rascher student: my college instructor, Dr. Laurence Wyman, was a student of Rascher's. I also took lessons from one of Dr. Wyman's better students (Masters' degree in Woodwinds, church orchestra director, studio musician, good soloist).

    Darn shame I never learned to be as good as them!

    I never really heard any stories about how Rascher could play from Dr. Wyman. That's probably the best thing you could say about someone: he was so good, you didn't even have to embellish .

    Anyhow, both of my teachers were incredibly talented with the overtone series: just about four octaves from each. Good tone, too. As far as playing a solo, though, using overtones only, I never heard or saw either attempt such a feat. It'd be pretty difficult.

    However, Gordon's also right: just because you don't have as many keys on a trumpet doesn't mean a sax is easier to play or a trumpet is more difficult.

    =========

    Anyhow, this particular topic has been hashed out quite a few times on this Forum. The main point, that a sax is relatively easy to make a noise on, but it's difficult to play well is the general conclusion -- the latter also being the case with all instruments. We haven't had folks that are multi-multi instrumentalists post here to really determine if instrument X is harder to play than a sax, though.

    However, IMHO, sax is easier to play than a clarinet, and it's easier to play a sax well than a clarinet -- at least for me. This is beacuse, again, IMHO, clarinetists regularly have to play an awful lot of very technically challenging music, the horn overblows an octave and it's really easy to make a clarinet sound breathy and/or make it squeak. Also, clarinet tone is more difficult to master and there are many, many pro clarinetists out there that I've heard that are technically brilliant, but have lousy, wimpy tone.

    (Oh. Btb, I allegedly have more experience playing clarinet than sax, about 20 compared to 15 years, but I was a better sax player than a clarinet player. I haven't really played even semi-professionally in years, so I'm now about as bad on both .)

    That is not to say that there aren't technically hard things to do on the sax! Pick up a copy of Rascher's "24 Intermezzi" and play that at any decent speed .

    It has something to do with talent, too: I have no real talent for playng the sax or clarinet. I lived up to the level of my own incompetence when I was in college -- and that's why I fix computers rather than play solos. I do, however, have some talent for singing and find that it feels more "natural" for me and I think I'm pretty good at it.

    =========

    One reason why I still stand behind my statement that the Trumpet is actually easier, is because it is more akin to singing or whistling than the Sax. By this I mean that it is even more critical with cup mouth instruments that you IMAGINE the note before you play them.
    If you don't "imagine" which note you're playing on the sax before you play it and while you play it, you'll play out of tune. Seriously. I also have told my students to practice long tones in front of a tuner and remember how they got it to play in tune, so they eventually get the note so ingrained that they'll finger a D and EVERY time they play it, they'll hit that D spot on in tune.
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    Yes I realize that one must think the note to play it IN TUNE on the sax, but it is more of a process of fine tuning in this case. On the trumpet however, it is absolutely vital to come even close to the intended note. What I was suggesting is that the process on trumpet is a bit more abstract than the mechanical fingering process used on keyed instruments.
    I used singing as an example of the former, simpler tone production where more is required of muscle/lip/throat control than key manipulation. I think that in the long run, the trumpet=less to worry about, and the process become more intuitive more quickly.
    Don't even mention the reed/mouthpiece/ligature nightmare etc. in the case of the Saxophone.
    This is my experience playing both instruments for 25+years. Others may disagree.
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    I think that thinking a note before playing it has little to do with getting it in tune.

    What gets a note in tune is getting the many parameters of embouchure, breath pressure etc exactly right for that note, considering volume, reed, etc, and also which note it has actually come FROM, because coming from harmonically related notes affects how they initially sound.

    Perhaps some players have set up psychological props for themselves, called 'thinking the note' , in order to achieve this, but other players just focus on getting parameters right.

    I suppose it depends on how your particular brain operates. We can't make assumptions on behalf of all players.

    BTW, if you know that you are FUNDAMENTALLY in tune, say exactly A440, but you are out of tune with other players around you , then you are out of tune. :-)

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    "Perhaps some players have set up psychological props for themselves, called 'thinking the note' , in order to achieve this, but other players just focus on getting parameters right. "

    Gordon,
    To be perfectly accurate, you are indeed correct. It is a psychological explanation for what is basically muscle memory at work. I've used it as an example because I think that a lot of players see it in that way and/or have been taught to think of it in those terms. Cheers.
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