When most people imagine a saxophone, the soprano isn’t the first style that comes to mind. But it is still a popular and great sounding instrument. A lot of saxophones are played in B♭ and the soprano saxophone is no different.
But that’s not all there is to know about the key of the soprano sax. The importance of the key of a soprano sax mostly depends on whether the saxophonist is playing alone or with a band or orchestra.
This is because the B♭ of a soprano saxophone isn’t the same as on other instruments. This is because the soprano saxophone is a transposing instrument.
It is obvious that all instruments do not sound alike. But, as you will have surely noticed, all music notes appear on the sheet music in the same way.
The placement of a note on the stave is the same on written music for every instrument. But, due to the nature of musical instruments, they will of course not all sound the same. So, when a piano and a saxophone play a C, they will sound very different.
If you’re playing alone then this won’t be much of a consideration. But if you will be playing in a band or an orchestra, it’s something to keep in mind.
The Reason Behind Transposition
When you begin playing with other musicians, it might come as a bit of a shock that you’re playing in a different key. So what is the reasoning behind this? Is it simply because all instruments sound different? Sort of.
The reason for saxophones being transposing instruments is due to Concert Pitch. Concert Pitch (also known as Concert Key) is simply referred to as the key of C. So, non-transposing instruments, such as pianos, are in the key of C.
Saxophones, including the soprano saxophone, aren’t in the key of C. This is mostly due to their shape and size.
The reason for transposition is because the fingerings on all saxophones were standardized. Whereas before the fingering on an alto would be different from the fingering on a soprano.
This essentially means that someone who knows the fingering for a soprano saxophone can then switch to an alto or even a flute.
Transposition When You’re Playing
So, what does this all actually mean in practice? In the most basic terms, it means that when you play a C note on a saxophone, it will sound like an E♭.
This means that you will be playing at a different pitch to the non-transposing instruments. So the notes that you play will sound wrong compared to the notes of the non-transposing instruments.
So, what can you do to make sure that you play in the same key as the non-transposing instruments? It might seem awkward and complicated but it was actually introduced to make playing easier.
And, although this is important and interesting to know, when you’re playing sheet music with others your music will likely already be transposed. You can learn how to transpose and there are lots of guides and videos online. So it shouldn’t be anything for you to worry about.
The Specifics of a Soprano Sax
Of all woodwind instruments, saxophones are the most popular. They are definitely considered to be the coolest. But the soprano sax is a little different from the kind of saxophone most people are familiar with.
The kind of saxophone that most people are familiar with is the alto saxophone. This is the saxophone with a large bell that doubles back on the body.
The main difference between the soprano saxophone and the alto saxophone is the shape of the bell. The soprano saxophone doesn’t double back.
Many people wouldn’t immediately identify a soprano as a saxophone due to its shape. The bell of the soprano saxophone is straight and similar in shape to a clarinet.
Other B♭ Saxophones
There is a wider range of saxophones than most people think. Some saxophones, the soprano included, don’t have the classic shape that most people associate with a sax.
All saxophones are transposing instruments. But not all saxophones play in the same key.
Other B♭ saxophones include the tenor sax and the sopranissimo sax. These saxophones look very different but do have some similarities.
The Keys of Other Saxophones
Now you know the key of the soprano sax, how do other saxophones compare?
- Alto Sax: E♭
- Sopranino: E♭
- Baritone: E♭
- Bass: B♭
- Subcontrabass: B♭
- Contrabass: E♭
Although you came here to find a specific answer to a specific question, we couldn’t let you go without telling you some interesting saxophone facts.
Here are a few interesting things to know about the saxophone (just in case you needed reminding that you’re playing the coolest instrument).
- It’s a woodwind instrument made from metal. If you play with a woodwind band, some new players might be surprised to see you rock up with your (probably brass) saxophone. Saxophones are considered woodwind instruments because of the sound they make, rather than because of the material they’re made from.
The name is also due to the way saxophones are played. You won’t see a saxophone in a brass band because it will sound out of place and is played more like a clarinet or a flute.
Woodwind instruments are blown into (hence the “wind”) whereas brass instruments are generally played by buzzing your lips against the mouthpiece.
- The saxophone was invented by Mr. Sax. It’s not often that we can trace the origins of an instrument. Instruments have been part of human culture for millennia. But the saxophone was actually invented by Adolphe Sax in 1840.
- The saxophone wasn’t always cool. When Sax first introduced the saxophone, it was considered a curiosity but was also widely mocked. Eventually, the saxophone became a fashionable instrument that is used in everything from orchestras to rock bands to chart-topping pop songs. So it became (in our opinion at least) the coolest instrument out there.