Playing Soprano Sax requires a tighter, firmer embouchure. Fact or fiction?
So, we are supposed to believe that there is something about the soprano sax that requires a tighter, firmer embouchure than an alto, tenor or baritone sax? I hear this nonsense quite often from players that believe it. Of course, they can’t explain what it is about the soprano that supposedly requires this extra firm embouchure, but they say it over and over again.
I think I know the source of this fiction, and it has nothing to do with the soprano sax, per se.
What does a tight, firm embouchure accomplish physically? It forces the reed “into” the mouthpiece, meaning it pushes the reed firmly against the table and. more importantly, firmly against the side rails. It effectively “shortens” the facing length, meaning less reed is involved in vibrating.
The “tight” embouchure has no effect on the saxophone. It has an effect on the reed and its interaction with the mouthpiece. The same is true on any sax, of course, not only the soprano. But the soprano is always described as “the culprit”.
The source of this fiction is directly connected to the documented inferiority of mass produced soprano mouthpieces. The tables are quite often a mess and the facings are equally suspect. And, because the tolerances on a small mouthpiece are so small, those bad facings and tables cause far more trouble than on an alto or tenor.
So, players go through all kinds of contortions to get the reed to work on their soprano mouthpieces and come to the wrong conclusion that “the culprit” is the soprano saxophone. All the while, they are playing on a mouthpiece that is not correct. The grimace-like approach to soprano embouchure doesn’t correct the problems, but it can mask some of them for a minute. But, when playing actual music, that “grimace” will make it a miserable chore and will likely fail the player at an inopportune moment.
And, in doing so, players develop bad habits, and that ridiculously tight embouchure is one of them. Nothing wrong with a firm embouchure, of course, just as there’s nothing wrong with a loose embouchure. But putting it out there that the soprano “requires” a firm embouchure is false, misleading and plain wrong. A vise-like embouchure for most players will choke off the sound, yielding a brittle, squawky tone. And those players will tell you that too is the nature of the soprano. Wrong again. The back pressure? It’s the soprano sax. Nonsense. It’s the reed and mouthpiece, especially when you’ve got a death-grip on it. Try voicing the palm key notes with one of those death-grip embouchures. Ouch.
When the table and facing on any mouthpiece is right, a player is able to relax and play, utilizing any embouchure they can control. And a well balanced mouthpiece makes that a simple thing, especially on soprano saxophone.
Next time you hear somebody tell you that playing soprano sax requires a tight, firm embouchure, stop listening right there. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Period.
Have your mouthpiece examined. Get it put right. Then, chill. It’s as easy as that, really.