The fact is that almost all folks who play soprano are doublers on that instrument, meaning it is not their primary saxophone. Typically they are tenor players but there are many altoists and baritone sax players who double on soprano. And that fact, that most players come to soprano from another sax, brings us to this interesting subject: delivering the air on soprano.
Now, it seems almost ‘common sense” that delivering the air on soprano should be just a matter of ‘ratcheting down” the air column, backing off a little, blowing a little easier, stuff like that. And, of course, those things can and do work.
But I suggest that those descriptions miss one thing that is common to playing any and all saxophones: air column support. The fact is, it’s easier to blow a soprano and many players stumble into the trap of making that air stream adjustment up high: in the oral cavity or throat, because it is relatively easy to do so.
However, make that adjustment from deeper in the column, from the diaphragm, and you’ll discover two things: the tone will improve almost instantly across the entire horn and intonation will become more stable. Those are two very good outcomes, in my opinion.
Of course, there is a certain immediate price to pay. The top end will usually get a little smaller and the low end may get a little weaker. But that only lasts a minute, so to speak. They come back quickly and with more tonal complexity and with more warmth and depth. And the intonation is much more stable.
This is not news to any saxophone player who has studied even for a few years. But the soprano has a way of bringing out a lot of bad habits because it responds so easily and quickly. We “feel” like we should be able to play it more easily and we slip into those old, long-overcome bad habits.
For me, the thought I try to have is that the column is narrower and I make the adjustment of how forcefully I am blowing deep in my chest, approaching the diaphragm. I want to feel the column being controlled and generated from there. I find when I play quietly, as in a ballad, that I can get that feeling and hold it. I will try to increase the sound and volume quite slowly, all the while keeping the source deep in my chest. If you’ve ever successfully played a Brilhart Level-Aire piece on tenor, you’ll have an idea of what this feels like.
The rewards are great for investigating this subtle but important aspect of playing soprano.