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Thread: How much easier is alto than soprano?

  1. #1

    Default How much easier is alto than soprano?

    Comments about soprano intonation problems abound on SOTW along with vague comments about sop being generally "harder to play" than alto, but I have no idea how large these differences are or what differences other than intonation issues exist. Can you help me? (So far I play sop only and am alto-curious.) Thanks in advance!
    jivemutha

    P.S. I have half a mind to start a similar thread in the alto section. Something tells me the answers might be different there . . .

  2. #2

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    Hi,

    As I commented in another thread, I think soprano has more difficulties, because of the size of the reed you'r blowing to vibe. Of course this item will be vary if you are ussing a thin mouthpiece on soprano and a big in Alto, the way you embouchure both instruments, etc.

    I mean that each instrument has his own difficulties, little differences, like the fingers possitions will affect the way you plays. So if you will be a good alto player you will need to practise a lot on this horn too. For me, I've tested playing an alto is very easy to play it. With soprano the strenght of the embouchure must pretty much. But this is a point that you must to get used to: to play with your embouchure more freely (that takes a little time for me).

    Whit soprano is a MUST to develop a very good embouchure and have a lot of contron with it, and blow the sax in a very strong way. This will let you play Alto or tenor in an easyest way, but that doesn't means that you will be a good Alto player, you must practice with this sax to develop and feel comfortable whit it.

    Ok, that's what I can tell you about my own experience.

    Of course you will have different opinions, anyone like that his sax would be the 'best'. But if you honestly ask me about wich is difficult sopranino (eaven more soprillo) than soprano I will tell you sopranino and soprillo are more difficult than soprano.
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  3. #3
    Distinguished SOTW Member shmuelyosef's Avatar
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    Default How much easier is alto than soprano?

    Alto is way easier, but you should play the horn that you want to play and master it, rather than seeking an easier path. Go for the passion rather than the copout...
    "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading" --- Henny Youngman

  4. #4

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    Thank you both for your input, particularly the comments about embouchure/reed-size issues, and the qualifier that alto is "way" easier.

    That said, I still find myself hungry for more specifics about the nature of what makes the soprano more difficult (save for the very specific issue of intonation that has been discussed widely on SOTW). Regarding the comment about the alto potentially being a "copout," I love the sound of both, so I think that adding alto would not fit with this concern for me. Who doesn't fall in love with the sound of a Phil Woods on Alto or old Trane CDs on soprano? (I mean that rhetorically--if someone out there really doesn't love Phil Woods or Coltrane, they needn't reply (-: )

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    Distinguished SOTW Member HeavyWeather77's Avatar
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    Default Alto easier?!?

    Intonation is DEFINITELY a struggle on soprano. However, I would heavily dispute that alto is an easier horn to sound good on. I started on clarinet, and I found it MUCH easier to get a good soprano sound than a good alto sound early on. If you tend toward a tigher embouchure and sometimes have trouble opening and loosening up, like me, then soprano can be much easier to play overall. Out of the three horns I play (tenor, alto, sop), I'd say that alto was the most difficult horn for me to get a sound I like on.

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    Tully's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeavyWeather77
    If you tend toward a tigher embouchure and sometimes have trouble opening and loosening up, like me, then soprano can be much easier to play overall. Out of the three horns I play (tenor, alto, sop), I'd say that alto was the most difficult horn for me to get a sound I like on.
    Same for me--I started out playing flute, so when I started playing tenor sax, adjusting to the embouchure was extremely difficult. However, now that I'm getting back to tenor after a year of only alto and soprano, tenor feels the most natural for me. At first, I had trouble with the general looseness, in a sense, that you need for tenor, but I think that's why soprano came relatively easily. I took up alto after tenor and soprano, and while I was able to get a decent sound right away on alto, I've never been able to get what I would consider a good sound, so for me, alto is the most difficult.

  7. #7

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    Alto sax is definitely easier than soprano. In fact I would say it is probably the easiest sax of them all. You don't need to develop the big breath support required for tenor or bari, and tuning is easier than the soprano.

    I think the main reason that makes the soprano sax is tricky is the relatively wide bore in comparison to its length. Imagine how wide the bore would be if a sop was magically scaled up to the same length as a tenor or bari sax! Also consider how much wider the bore is compared to an oboe, clarinet or flute - instruments of roughly the same pitch. This is what makes the intonation so flexible. It also means that the upper overtones are relatively weaker, which gives the instrument its characteristic "nasal" sound. The best players seem to be able to minimize both these effects by means of practice and technique.

  8. #8

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    OK--so for those who agree alto IS easier than soprano (and it's now clear that doesn't include everyone but I think we can all agree it includes most players) . . .

    It sounds as though besides intonation, the other problem involves getting a good tone. I notice no one has yet said it's harder to hit high notes or low notes or achieve speed or any other aspect of playing. Is that right--the difference in ease between sop and alto is all about intonation and tone??

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    Distinguished SOTW Member ismail's Avatar
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    @ HeavyWeather:

    You´re mentioning a true thing that I don´t hear often from other people:
    I´m playing Alto but have tried and of course heard all other kinds of Saxes, and though i´m not sure if you can say that one instrument is really harder than another, it usually takes more time to get a decent sound on alto than on any other horn...

    ...but getting a REALLY good sound might take the same time on all saxes or even wind instruments in general...just to say that there is no absolute easier/more difficult...

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    Distinguished SOTW Member HeavyWeather77's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by captain blowhard
    Alto sax is definitely easier than soprano. In fact I would say it is probably the easiest sax of them all. You don't need to develop the big breath support required for tenor or bari, and tuning is easier than the soprano.
    If you're planning on getting a sound that anyone would actually ever want to listen to on alto, then you're going to be using TONS of air support. Kenny Garrett, I've heard, runs 4 miles or so a day in order to keep his breath support what it is... and if you've ever heard him play, you can bet he's using some serious air.

    I guess the bottom line is that you shouldn't take any of the horns lightly. To play any one of them well is physically very difficult; musicians are athletes in the sense that we train to use our bodies in ways that most everyday people never do. It's a labor of love to cultivate a good sound on soprano and alto; intonation on all the horns is another beast, when it comes down to it.

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    Jive: I think it is too personal and too subjective (maybe personal and subjective is the same thing?) to reach any generalized conclusion as to which saxophone is more difficult than another. It ALL depends on the player.

    I've seen guys switch among alto, bass sax, and cornet (a completely different animal) in the same tune and do it well. Some can, some can't. That doesn't make one instrument more difficult than the other. It speaks more about the individual's skills than the characteristics of any instrument. DAVE
    Dave

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    Forum Contributor 2007 jacobeid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Dolson
    Jive: I think it is too personal and too subjective (maybe personal and subjective is the same thing?) to reach any generalized conclusion as to which saxophone is more difficult than another. It ALL depends on the player.

    I've seen guys switch among alto, bass sax, and cornet (a completely different animal) in the same tune and do it well. Some can, some can't. That doesn't make one instrument more difficult than the other. It speaks more about the individual's skills than the characteristics of any instrument. DAVE
    quoted for truth.
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    Distinguished SOTW Member jaysne's Avatar
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    I actually found playing soprano much easier than alto--in the beginning. Blowing into that small, straight pipe felt like automatic transmission after years of blowing my brains out on the larger horn.

    Then I started learning about a little thing called intonation. And that's when the work began.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Dolson
    Jive: I think it is too personal and too subjective (maybe personal and subjective is the same thing?) to reach any generalized conclusion as to which saxophone is more difficult than another. It ALL depends on the player.
    Thanks, Dave. I have to wonder if your view might be partly affected by having already conquered intonation problems on the sop, given that such problems are considered by many (though not all) to be a somewhat smaller hurdle on the alto, as I'm sure you're aware. What think you? Thanks.
    JiveM

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    Jive: I assure you that when I started 50 years ago (on a C-soprano) I too had to learn how to control it. But I wanted desparately to play soprano saxophone, so I got to it and never gave a thought to the larger saxophones or the presumed difficulty among them.

    If it was JUST me that finds all saxophones to be of equal challenge, I'd say you might be right. But I've met a lot of players over the years that have corroborated my contentions. No, they didn't specifically address the issue, but through their conversations, backed up by their playing, they corroborated my opinion.

    I agree that only a minority of saxophonists started on soprano (which would naturally give them a head-start on conquering intonation issues through embouchure), but many others started on clarinet, then expanded to saxophones of various sizes. They too have trained their embouchures to handle a smaller instruments' difficulties.

    But how about those who start on tenor, baritone, etc. and make the switch to soprano? There could be equal challenges there in training one's embouchure to deal with the smaller instrument. And they do.

    I've seen other players switch among reeds, brass, percussion, strings and keyboard with seeming abandon. I STILL contend it isn't the instrument, it is the player. DAVE
    Dave

  16. #16

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    Dave D: Where do you think the general stereotype of sops creating more intonation problems originated from--any ideas?

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    Tully's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jivemutha
    Dave D: Where do you think the general stereotype of sops creating more intonation problems originated from--any ideas?
    I wouldn't say that the difficulty of soprano intonation is a stereotype, rather that it is an inevitable product of the size of the instrument. For whatever reason, it seems that the shorter an instrument is, the more unstable the intonation, just like how piccolo tends to have more intonation problems than flute (although I do realize that a flute has a straight bore whereas a piccolo has a sort of reverse conical bore, getting narrower as you move away from the headjoint). Also, the smaller a mouthpiece is, the more sensitive it is to tiny embouchure adjustments.

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    Jive: I agree with Tully, except that the smallishness of the instrument and mouthpiece create a situation where relatively little flexibility is provided. I say "relative" because I'm relating the size of the soprano to the larger saxophones.

    I'm not sure that I agree with the comment that the intonation is UNstable. I think it is just that the player needs to be careful about where he/she lands, so to speak. Precision is required, more so than with bigger saxophones, at least that's the way I see it.

    And, the same goes for the way the sopranos are made - smaller tolerances - the need to make sure the horn has good intonation; more difficult with the smaller instruments, I think.

    Repeating, I began on soprano, so developing precision from almost the beginning was part of my development. I never gave a thought to the characteristics of soprano, I just wanted to play it. At that time, little was being done on sopranos except for mostly Dixieland bands (and that's what I liked anyway). The only new horns being made were Selmers and Buffets. If you didn't buy one of those, you played a Conn, Buescher, or Martin (well, there were Kings, too) from the '20's. Some of those were inherently out of tune, others had good scales. I think that may be where the idea came from that sopranos were, shall we say "quirky." But even today, some sopranos have poor intonation, probably more so than the larger saxophones. DAVE
    Dave

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    Tully's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Dolson
    I'm not sure that I agree with the comment that the intonation is UNstable. I think it is just that the player needs to be careful about where he/she lands, so to speak.
    Absolutely--"unstable" was the wrong word. What I meant was basically what you are saying, but it didn't come out very well!

    The horn itself does indeed play a huge part in the intonation, no doubt about that. I'm extremely glad to have a horn with great intonation (Antigua 586). With the right mouthpiece, it's dead on, which I can't say at all for my alto (an older Antigua I don't have anymore), so at least in my case, soprano intonation isn't always harder than alto.

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    Forum Contributor 2009 Bikedog's Avatar
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    Here is the problem I had with soprano, egonomics. You have support it with your thumbs, neck strap only got in the way. Since I am an older player, my hands have developed arthritis, partiularly in both thumbs. I also found the weight of the tenor to be difficult on my hands...but the alto was just right. Kinda like Lil Red Riddin Hood finding a bed that fit.

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