Soprano saxophone

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Soprano saxophone
Yamaha Saxophone YSS-875 EX.jpg
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.212-71
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s) Adolphe Sax
Developed28 June 1846 [1]
Playing range
Soprano saxophone
Soprano saxophone in B♭ sounds a major second lower than written. Most can reach high F♯ or higher, using altissimo fingerings.
Related instruments
Military band saxophones: Orchestral saxophones: Other saxophones:
List of saxophonists
More articles or information
Pattern of 5 notes of Reed Phase played on soprano saxophone

The soprano saxophone is a higher-register variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument invented in the 1840s. [2] The soprano is the third-smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists (from smallest to largest) of the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass saxophone and tubax. Soprano saxophones are the smallest and thus highest-pitched saxophone in common use.


The instrument

A transposing instrument pitched in the key of B, modern soprano saxophones with a high F key have a range from concert A3 to E6 (written low B to high F) and are therefore pitched one octave above the tenor saxophone. There is also a soprano saxophone pitched in C, [2] which is uncommon; most examples were produced in America in the 1920s.

The soprano has all the keys of other saxophone models (with the exception of the low A on some baritones and altos). Soprano saxophones were originally keyed from low B to high E, but a low B mechanism was patented in 1887 [3] and by 1910 nearly all saxophones were keyed to low B including sopranos. During the 1920s it became standard for sopranos to be keyed to high F. Starting in the 1950s, high F was offered as an option on some sopranos, and by the 1970s most professional-level instruments had a high F key. Nearly all sopranos made today are keyed to high F as standard, and some recent professional sopranos (e.g. those made by Yanagisawa, Selmer, and Yamaha) may have a high G key next to the F key. Additionally, skilled players can make use of the altissimo register, which allows them to cover these notes and play even higher, usually regardless of their instrument's keyed range.

Many sopranos made since the 1990s feature detachable necks and will include one straight and one downward-curved neck. A fully straight soprano must be held upward and outward while playing, which allows it to project well and can allow for a more energetic appearance in performance. A curved neck allows the instrument to be held somewhat downward and still maintain a proper mouthpiece angle, which makes for easier use of a music stand and can reduce fatigue in the right arm for some players. Some also believe that a curved neck gives the soprano a warmer, less nasal tone, although this is the subject of debate among players. However, some players, technicians, and engineers prefer one-piece sopranos over a detachable neck because the neck receiver/tenon system is prone to excessive wear and can develop leaks over time which hinder the instrument's playability if not corrected, so due to some players' preference for curved necks, occasionally one-piece instruments are bent during manufacturing above the octave key (e.g. the Yamaha YSS-62R and YSS-82ZR). Some manufacturers also produce fully curved sopranos which look much like a small alto saxophone with a straighter neck/crook, as well as 'tipped-bell' sopranos which are straight but have the bell angled upward somewhat and are typically used with a curved neck (these are often called 'saxellos' for their resemblance to the somewhat rare Saxello model produced by King in the 1920s, though an actual Saxello's bell is angled more and its bore is different [4] ). All variants have the same keys and range as the traditional straight soprano, but as with the necks, some players believe curved and tipped-bell sopranos sound warmer and less nasal.

Due to the higher pitch of the soprano, it is more sensitive with respect to intonation than the lower saxophones, so a player must have more skill with breath support, tongue and soft palate position, and embouchure (collectively known as voicing). [5] It is also less forgiving of poor maintenance than lower saxophones. This has led to the common belief that soprano is either inherently out of tune, or far more difficult to play than lower saxophones, but many experienced players and teachers disagree with these sentiments.

Soprano saxophone mouthpieces are available in various designs, allowing players to tailor their tone as desired.

In classical music

The soprano saxophone is mainly used as a solo and chamber instrument in classical music, though it is occasionally used in a concert band or orchestra. It is included in the saxophone quartet and plays a lead role. Many solo pieces have been written for it by composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alan Hovhaness, Jennifer Higdon, Takashi Yoshimatsu, Charles Koechlin, John Mackey, Miklos Maros, Marc Mellits, and Belinda Reynolds.

As an orchestral instrument, it has been used in several compositions. It was used by Richard Strauss in his Sinfonia Domestica, where included in the music are parts for four saxophones, including a soprano saxophone in C. It is also used in Maurice Ravel's "Boléro" and has a featured solo directly following the tenor saxophone's solo. Vincent d'Indy includes a soprano in his opera Fervaal.

Notable classical soprano saxophonists include Carina Rascher, Christine Rall, Michael Hernandez, Eugene Rousseau, Kenneth Tse, Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Jean-Denis Michat, Vincent David, Rob Buckland, John Harle, Mariano Garcia, Claude Delangle, Arno Bornkamp, Timothy McAllister, and Christopher Creviston.

In jazz

While not as popular as the alto and tenor saxes in jazz, the soprano saxophone has played a role in its evolution. Greats of the jazz soprano sax include 1930s virtuoso Sidney Bechet, 1950s innovator Steve Lacy, and, beginning with his landmark 1960 album My Favorite Things, John Coltrane.

Other well-known jazz players include: Wayne Shorter, Paul McCandless, Johnny Hodges, Walter Parazaider, Oliver Nelson, Bob Berg, Joe Farrell, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Fortune, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers, Gary Bartz, Bennie Maupin, Branford Marsalis, Kirk Whalum, Jan Garbarek, Danny Markovitch of Marbin, Paul Winter, Dave Liebman, Evan Parker, Hanah Jon Taylor, Sam Newsome, Kenny G, and Charlie Mariano (including in his work with bassist Eberhard Weber).

Other notable soprano saxophonists include Julian Smith, Joshua Redman, Jay Beckenstein, Dave Koz, Grover Washington Jr., Ronnie Laws, LeRoi Moore, Sarah Skinner of Red Dirt Skinners, and Nigerian Afrobeat multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti.

Big band music sometimes calls for an alto or tenor saxophone player to double on soprano saxophone, particularly the lead alto.

Similar to the flute, the soprano saxophone is culturally associated with smooth jazz and easy listening. Thus, it is often the subject of various instrumental "background music" played in elevators, hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls and other indoor facilities.

Kenny G has become a colloquial icon of the instrument, featuring in occasional commercials and internet memes. [6] Julian Smith inspired by the work of Kenny G, placed third [7] on Britain's Got Talent in 2009, doing a solo performance in each of three appearances with a soprano saxophone.

In some popular music interpretations, the soprano saxophone is commonly paired with FM-type electric piano and electronic drum sounds to create a smooth, R&B-like arrangement. It is also popular in Japanese music, most commonly within the AOR and city pop genre.

Similar instruments

Because of its sometimes similar sound to the oboe, the soprano saxophone can be confused with it by listeners. The soprano saxophone may also be used as a substitute when an oboe is not available.

The soprano saxophone is also sometimes confused with the B clarinet. The clarinet has a distinctly different timbre, is usually much quieter, can play an augmented fourth lower and is commonly played as much as a fifth higher (though the soprano saxophone can also be played this high with altissimo, it is uncommon for a player to do so). The saxophone is made of brass and is either lacquered or plated with silver, gold, or occasionally black nickel, while the clarinet is either black or distinctly wood-grained, with silver or gold keys.

In 2001, François Louis created the aulochrome, a woodwind instrument made of two joined soprano saxophones, which can be played either in unison or in harmony. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone</span> Single-reed woodwind instrument

The saxophone is a type of single-reed woodwind instrument with a conical body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument's body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clef</span> Musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes

A clef is a musical symbol used to indicate which notes are represented by the lines and spaces on a musical stave. Placing a clef on a stave assigns a particular pitch to one of the five lines, which defines the pitches on the remaining lines and spaces.

Transposing instrument Musical instrument for which notated pitch differs from sounding pitch

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C; that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B, so these are referred to as B instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music; rather, their music is written at a transposed pitch. Where chords are indicated for improvisation they are also written in the appropriate transposed form.


The sarrusophones are a family of transposing woodwind musical instruments patented and placed into production by Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856. Originally designed as double-reed instruments, sarrusophones were later developed that used single-reed mouthpieces, at least for some of the larger sizes. It was named after the French bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813–1876), who is credited with the concept of the instrument, though it is not clear whether Sarrus benefited financially from this association. The instrument was intended to serve as a replacement in wind bands for the oboe and bassoon, which, at that time, lacked the carrying power required for outdoor band music.

Bass clarinet Member of the clarinet family

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles and concert bands, and occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alto saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in E, smaller than the B tenor but larger than the B soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, and jazz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baritone saxophone</span> Lowest-pitched saxophone in common use

The baritone saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of instruments, larger than the tenor saxophone, but smaller than the bass. It is the lowest-pitched saxophone in common use - the bass, contrabass and subcontrabass saxophones are relatively uncommon. Like all saxophones, it is a single-reed instrument. It is commonly used in concert bands, chamber music, military bands, big bands, and jazz combos. It can also be found in other ensembles such as rock bands and marching bands. Modern baritone saxophones are pitched in E.

Soprano clarinet Member of the clarinet family

A soprano clarinet is a clarinet that is higher in register than the basset horn or alto clarinet. The unmodified word clarinet usually refers to the B clarinet, which is by far the most common type. The term soprano also applies to the clarinets in A and C, and even the low G clarinet—rare in Western music but popular in the folk music of Turkey—which sounds a whole tone lower than the A. While some writers reserve a separate category of sopranino clarinets for the E and D clarinets, those are generally regarded as soprano clarinets as well. All have a written range from the E below middle C to about the C three octaves above middle C, with the sounding pitches determined by the particular instrument's transposition.

The alto clarinet is a woodwind instrument of the clarinet family. It is a transposing instrument pitched in the key of E, though instruments in F have been made. In size it lies between the soprano clarinet and the bass clarinet. It bears a greater resemblance to the bass clarinet in that it typically has a straight body, but a curved neck and bell made of metal. All-metal alto clarinets also exist. In appearance it strongly resembles the basset horn, but usually differs in three respects: it is pitched a whole step lower, it lacks an extended lower range, and it has a wider bore than many basset horns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sopranino saxophone</span>

The sopranino saxophone is the second-smallest member of the saxophone family. It is tuned in the key of E, and sounds an octave higher than the alto saxophone. An F sopranino were described in Adolphe Sax's patent, but no known examples have ever been built.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">C melody saxophone</span>

The C melody saxophone, also known as the C tenor saxophone, is a saxophone pitched in the key of C one whole tone above the common B-flat tenor saxophone. The C melody was part of the series of saxophones pitched in C and F intended by the instrument's inventor, Adolphe Sax, for orchestral use. The instrument enjoyed popularity in the early 1900s, perhaps most prominently used by Rudy Wiedoeft and Frankie Trumbauer, but is now uncommon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mezzo-soprano saxophone</span>

The mezzo-soprano saxophone, sometimes called the F alto saxophone, is an instrument in the saxophone family. It is in the key of F, pitched a whole tone above the alto saxophone. Its size and the sound are similar to the E alto, although the upper register sounds more like a B soprano. Very few mezzo-sopranos exist—they were only produced in 1928 and 1929 by the C.G. Conn company. They were not popular and did not sell widely, as their production coincided with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Harsh economic conditions forced Conn to reduce the range of saxophones they produced to the most popular models.

Yanagisawa Wind Instruments Japanese manufacturing company

Yanagisawa Wind Instruments Co., Ltd. is a Japanese woodwind instrument manufacturing company known for its range of professional grade saxophones. Along with Yamaha, they are one of the leading manufacturers of saxophones in their country of origin. The company currently manufactures sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

Selmer Mark VI

The Selmer Mark VI is a saxophone produced from 1954 to 1981. Production shifted to the Mark VII for the tenor and alto in the mid-1970s, and to the Super Action 80 for the soprano and baritone saxophones in 1981. The sopranino saw limited production until about 1985.

The western concert flute family has a wide range of instruments.

Reed aerophones is one of the categories of musical instruments found in the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification. In order to produce sound with these Aerophones the player's breath is directed against a lamella or pair of lamellae which periodically interrupt the airflow and cause the air to be set in motion.

Saxophone technique

Saxophone technique refers to the physical means of playing the saxophone. It includes how to hold the instrument, how the embouchure is formed and the airstream produced, tone production, hands and fingering positions, and a number of other aspects. Instrumental technique and corresponding pedagogy is a topic of much interest to musicians and teachers and therefore has been subjected to personal opinions and differences in approach. Over the course of the saxophone’s performance history, notable saxophonists have contributed much to the literature on saxophone technique.

Soprano trombone Musical instrument in the trombone family

The soprano trombone is the soprano instrument in the trombone family of brass instruments. It is usually pitched in B an octave above the tenor trombone, and has a bore, bell and mouthpiece similar to the B trumpet. Although modern instruments are made, the soprano remains a rare trombone seldom written for, compared to the tenor, bass, or even the uncommon alto trombone.


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  4. "The H. N. White King Saxello". Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  5. Giardullo, Joe (20 March 2017). "Soprano Saxophone: Many Ways to Deliver The Air". SOPRANOPLANET. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  6. Kelly, Tiffany (20 July 2017). "How Kenny G went from internet laughingstock to meme king of Twitter". Daily Dot. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  7. Collett-White, Mike (31 May 2009). "Diversity "gobsmacked" by UK TV talent show win". Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  8. "Aulochrome". aulochrome. Retrieved 19 May 2014.