If you like playing higher parts but don’t want to play the trumpet or flute, you may wonder about the soprano saxophone. It has a similar range to those instruments but is not as common.
Here’s How Hard it is to Learn the Soprano Saxophone:
Learning the soprano saxophone as a complete beginner is hard due to the small embouchure. However, if you can already play the alto or tenor sax, making the switch will be much easier due to the same written range.
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Is the Soprano Saxophone Harder Than the Tenor and Baritone Saxophone?
In some ways, the soprano saxophone can be harder than the tenor and baritone saxophones. First, the smaller size of the soprano sax means that it’s less forgiving to students.
You need to use a much smaller embouchure to get a good sound out of the instrument.
Also, the nature of the soprano frequently requires you to play higher notes, while you can stick to the lower registers on the tenor or bari sax.
That means you may have to spend more time practicing higher notes. Those notes can be harder for beginners to play, so it can take time to play a soprano sax well.
On the other hand, the soprano sax is easier than the tenor and bari in some ways.
Since it’s smaller, it’s easier to hold, and you don’t have to push your air through as much tubing to get a sound out.
Is the Soprano Saxophone a Good Instrument for Beginners?
It’s easy to think that the soprano saxophone is a good instrument for beginners0.
After all, it’s small and looks like a brass version of the clarinet, a common instrument among beginners.
However, the soprano saxophone isn’t ideal for new musicians. While the small size is nice, getting a nice sound out of the instrument takes time and effort.
Also, you won’t find many ensembles that call for a soprano sax part on its own. When there is a soprano sax part, an alto player will usually double on both instruments to cover the part.
If you want to play in a concert band or jazz band, you’ll need to at least play the alto sax and the soprano.
The alto is a more common choice for new saxophonists.
Is It Better to Start Out on an Alto or Tenor Saxophone?
Between the alto and tenor saxophone, the alto is generally the better choice for beginners.
It’s smaller and easier to hold, plus you don’t need as much air to get a sound out.
In many cases, alto saxophones are also cheaper than tenor saxophones with similar specs. That can make it a more accessible instrument for a lot of people.
Plus, if you want to double on the soprano saxophone, you’ll have more opportunities if you play the alto sax versus the tenor sax.
The two smaller saxophones will also be easier to carry around since they take up less space.
How Long Does It Take to Learn to Play the Soprano Saxophone?
If you bypass the recommendation to learn the alto sax first, you can expect to spend a couple of years before you can play the soprano saxophone well.
You must learn how to breathe in time, what the fingerings are, and how to read music.
But the nice thing about learning the alto sax first is that you can skip over a lot of those steps. The entire saxophone family shares the same fingerings for the same written notes.
That means you can focus more on adapting to the smaller mouthpiece when you first play the soprano sax. You may be able to reach an intermediate level of playing within a few months.
If you practice regularly, you could even hit that level within weeks.
Then, you can take over some soprano saxophone parts as a soloist or in the various ensembles you play in.
Can You Learn to Play the Soprano Saxophone by Yourself?
You can learn to play the soprano saxophone by yourself.
Assuming you already know the alto or tenor saxophone, most of the techniques on the soprano should come naturally to you.
If you’ve taken a few years’ worth of lessons on another saxophone, you should know how to play it well. All you need to do is apply those basic techniques to your soprano saxophone.
However, if you’ve never taken private lessons, you may not want to learn the soprano sax yourself.
It’s less forgiving than the larger saxophones, so having a teacher to guide you and correct any mistakes can save you a lot of time and frustration.
How to Make Learning the Soprano Saxophone Easier
The soprano saxophone is one of the hardest instruments of the four most common sizes. However, you shouldn’t let that deter you from learning the instrument.
Luckily, you can do a few things to keep the learning curve from being so steep.
Here are some of my biggest tips to help you learn the soprano saxophone:
Start on the Alto Sax
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn the alto saxophone before the soprano.
You can learn the basics, from reading music to forming an embouchure and managing your breathing.
The alto sax is a much more common instrument among beginners.
Finding a teacher willing to work with you on this instrument will be easier, and you’ll have more opportunities to join local ensembles.
After a year or two of playing the alto saxophone, you can make sure you enjoy the instrument. Once you master the basics, you can get your hands on a soprano saxophone to start learning it.
Avoid Cheap Models
When you’re ready to start learning the soprano saxophone, do your best to get one from a reputable brand. I’d suggest models from Yamaha, Jupiter, or Selmer.
You can find tons of cheaper models from brands like Mendini. Those models might work for a while, but they aren’t going to be of the best quality, and they can wear out relatively quickly.
It’s better to spend a bit of money now on a better instrument that will last you for years. If you can’t afford a soprano sax, look for a used one.
Alternatively, you can find a music store with a financing program to pay for your sax over time.
Ask to Double in an Ensemble
If you play in a concert band or jazz band, ask your director about doubling on soprano and alto sax. You may already play the alto saxophone on most pieces.
Some directors may jump at the chance to assign you a soprano saxophone part.
Knowing a group member can play the instrument means your group has access to more repertoire, and you can get the chance to play the soprano with others.
Now, you’ll still most likely have to play the alto sax or tenor sax on most of the music in that group.
However, playing the soprano in a group can encourage you to practice for rehearsals to get even better at it.
Join a Saxophone Quartet
You can also play the soprano saxophone in a saxophone quartet.
Like concert and jazz band music, not all sax quartets call for a soprano part, but you can look for pieces that do.
Look out for any saxophone quartets that need to fill a spot in their group. If you can’t find any openings, you can form your own saxophone quartet.
Ask a few players you know from your concert or jazz band to start a chamber group with you. Then, you can assign yourself any soprano sax parts to get more experience on the instrument.
Use Your Tenor Sax Music
Because the written range is the same, you could technically play music for any saxophone on your soprano sax.
However, stick to tenor sax parts if you want to play with accompaniment.
The soprano and tenor saxes are both in the key of Bb, and the main difference is the soprano sounds an octave higher. You can find solos for the tenor sax and easily play them on the soprano.
You can do so if you want to work with a pianist or other musicians.
Sure, you can find soprano sax music, but if you already have a lot of sheet music, you can make it work until you can afford to buy new pieces.
The soprano saxophone is the highest of the four most common members of the sax family.
It may be the smallest, but it’s not ideal for most beginners.
Be sure to spend a year or so learning to play the alto flute. Then, you can make the switch to the soprano saxophone, and you can enjoy playing both instruments.