What Is A Curved Soprano Saxophone And Is It Any Better Than A Straight Soprano Saxophone?
The curved soprano saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of musical instruments, and is the third smallest among the different types of saxophones. Unlike tenor saxophones, it is pitched in one octave higher in the B-flat key. Renowned jazz artists favored soprano saxophones for their characteristic, high pitched sound, and mastering a soprano saxophone can be rather difficult for a beginner. Unlike typical straight soprano saxophones that have a conical shape and resemble a clarinet, these curved ones have curved necks. However, in comparison to a straight soprano saxophone, there are many benefits of using a curved one.
The curved soprano saxophone gained popularity between the 20s and the 30s, but are equally popular today as well. Many people believe that curved sopranos have the same intonation tendencies as straight ones but that is not true. Similarly, curved sopranos are not stuffy in lower notes unlike what most people believe. The bell of a curved soprano offers more forward projection so the tone is different than that of a straight one.
It is possible to hold a curved soprano saxophone closer to the body, almost at the same angle that we a hold a clarinet, because of its curved neck. This makes it possible to use a neck strap, making it more comfortable to use, and the bell does not hit the music stand while playing the saxophone. Many soprano saxophones have a removable neck, and they come with both curved and straight necks. When playing curved soprano sax, the sound is aimed down at the floor by the curved neck.
Be Sure to get the best saxophone mouthpiece.
Many saxophone players prefer this for classical and quartet playing. As far as the response is concerned, the difference between a curved and straight neck is not really noticeable, but since the angle of projection of the necks varies, their tone quality is different. In a commercial setting, just like a clarinet, it can be difficult to mic a straight saxophone, and usually two microphones are required. One microphone has to be placed facing up near the bell, and the other one has to be placed above the left hand. This makes it difficult for the saxophone player to move. Although this problem can be solved using a ‘clip-on’ double microphone setup, but it still not very ideal.
Like alto and tenor saxophones, it is quite easy to mic a curved saxophone. Much like larger saxophones, A single mic can be placed on a floor stand, or a single clip-on’ can be used just as it is used for larger saxophones. The forward projection tone is another benefit of using curved sopranos because when playing with a big band’ saxophone section, the balance is improved. Even clarinet lead parts can be played using a curved soprano.
Most Importantly, Don’t forget you Saxophone Reeds!
The above does not mean that a curved soprano should be confined to a specific role. Apart from the fact that learning to play a curves soprano can be quite difficult, the benefits of using it instead of curved one cannot be denied. A curved soprano saxophone truly has a unique sound!
Dr. Charles WONG Yat-Cheung says
Sunday, October 20th 2013 at 10:33 pm
Dr. Charles WONG, Hong Kong, CHINA
I enjoyed listening to your wonderful playing. Thank you.
Your commentary on the curved soprano saxophone is informative and balanced. I also find there is no discernible stuffiness due to the curvature of the instrument compared with its straight cousin.
My personal experience as an amateur may be worth sharing:
 My very first curved soprano sax was bought on line from China several year ago. It is now installed as a pretty lamp stand. After being examined by several techs, everyone came to the conclusion that its incredibly poor intonation was incurable.
 The second one was recently bought, also made on Mainland China. This joint venture model (manufactured in China with foreign partnership) was personally tested by a friend before dispatch to me.. This one is in tune, good action, quiet keys, and good tone – best with a Yamaha C5 mpc and Rico Royal French Cut 2.5 reeds. This is incredible advance over just 5 years. The cheap Yamaha 5C mpc is superior to all my other ones, including Yamaha 4CM 3C, 4C, 6C, 7C; Meyer Hard Rubber Toned Edge, Geo M Bundy Signature 3, Selmer etc.
The soprano sax probably gets bad press because it is often touted and sold as a children’s model by unscrupulous dealers. It is definitely unsuitable for a new learner because it is much more difficult to master than the alto. The alto may be a bit big for the small child, but it can be supported by resting on a box for support whilst being played.
The light weight of the soprano is important for small children and old guys like me. I now find the tenor too heavy, requiring too much breath.
Personally, the determining factor for some one like me with shoulder muscle dysfunction, is that the curved soprano does not require the player to lift the sax away from my body to slant it at 45 degree – I changed from playing the viola/cello to the double bass purely because of this disability.
Sadly, it is as hard to play well, just like all the other sizes of saxophones. The vast majority of us, including our teachers, never come close to produce the relaxed tone of Paul Desmond or Stan Getz. Kenny G’s tone is another story.