Playing on a good mouthpiece makes a big difference for sax players, regardless of whether it’s on alto, tenor, baritone or anything else. But on the small horns, it is even more critical to success, and here is why I think that is true:
On soprano and sopranino, everything is more focused, smaller and the difference between what works well and what doesn’t work well is really, really small, and almost always measured in 1/1000th of an inch.
I see it every day.
Now, that doesn’t mean that a mouthpiece that isn’t correctly balanced will not play. Sometimes they won’t play, but more often they play with issues, sometimes a lot of issues. Here are some of the issues you may recognize:
- The tone changes dramatically between registers
- The palm key notes will not speak easily or, sometimes, at all
- The high notes sound very thin compared to the rest of the horn
- The low notes speak poorly and require much more effort than the rest of the horn
- You must take a lot of mouthpiece into your mouth before the mouthpiece will play well
- The mouthpiece suddenly “shuts down” in certain areas (high, low, middle)
- You can’t really put any air into the piece before it starts to “back up” on you
- You have to dramatically change the air column when moving from one area of the horn to another, otherwise you have intonation problems
- You have to move around on the mouthpiece as you are playing to get different parts of the horn to speak correctly
- The tone is way too bright, dull, dark,….. you name it.
There are more, of course, but you get the idea. And we, as players, tend to think that the problem is “us”, that we just need to practice more to overcome these things because all we’ve ever heard is “the soprano is a beast”.
Well, I can tell you that the soprano is no “beast” at all and it really isn’t you most of the time.
Read what players have to say about playing on a really balanced soprano mouthpiece. There is almost a sense of revelation that takes place. It is that immediately apparent, almost every time