E-flat Sopranino Saxophone

Sopranino Saxophone

Sopranino Saxophone range

This little saxophone is pitched one octave higher than the common Alto Saxophone.  In use and appearance, it is very much like the Soprano Saxophone.  For many years, this instrument was a very rare sight, but today it is becoming more and more common.  There are now instruments being sold at very affordable prices, and these are nearly as good as some of the professional instruments.  I myself, for a time, owned a Sopranino Saxophone, and found it an interesting and useful instrument.

The sound, surprisingly, is akin to that of the Oboe, and with that instrument interesting combinations can be concocted.  It is best as the top voice of the saxophone ensemble.  As a solo instrument, its high voice can soar above the rest of the band in all but the thickest contexts.  It can mix well with both high clarinets and high trumpets.

Some instruments are only keyed up to a high E while others reach the F or F-sharp.  Usually, this should not be of concern of a competent player, as I have found, the players who possess the instruments abbreviated at E can manage the extra higher notes.  That said, passages in the extreme register are taxing to the player.

I currently know of no piece for band that uses the Sopranino Saxophone.  This is quite possibly due to its former rarity.  However, with the modern resurgence, I see no reason not to include one in your writing.  It can be a strident solo voice soaring above the ensemble, or a soft soprano that blends well with other reeds.

One correction that I must make that appears in nearly every orchestration text is that the Sopranino Saxophone is always pitched in E-flat and never in F.  The myth of the F instrument comes from Ravel’s Bolero where he mistakenly scores for an F Sopranino (even though the common B-flat Soprano is sufficient for the part).  This provides a good rule of thumb – if an instrument appears in a score, that doesn’t mean it actually exists!  There are several examples of this throughout music history (F Sopranino Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet in A, Clarinet in B-natural, etc.).  Check before you write!

A rare performance of Bolero that uses a Sopranino Saxophone.  The timber difference is noticeable.

Man-Mau for Sopranino Saxophone and Piano.

A big band piece with Sopranino Saxophone soloist.  Note, the soloist uses two different instruments.  The first is a new curved Sopranino, while the second is an 1899 vintage instrument.  See how different their sound is!

5 thoughts on “E-flat Sopranino Saxophone

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  4. Nathan T

    How is intonation on the sopranino? I heard a recording of Bolero with the sopranino where at one point the instrument went a quarter tone sharp. Is this a common problem or an incompetent player?

    1. Intonation can be difficult on it because it is so small. That said, I only know of one performance/recording of Bolero where a Sopranino is actually used.

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