Switching From Alto Sax to Soprano Sax

Switching from alto to soprano sax is fairly straightforward.

The hardest part of switching instruments is usually learning the new notes and fingerings. Since all saxophones, with the exception of the baritone saxophone, have the same numbers of keys and same fingerings for each note, it is relatively simple to change between alto and soprano.

Written Range

The alto and soprano sax have the same written range. This means that when you move from an alto to a soprano sax, you will not have to learn a new set of fingerings. This means, if you see an F on the first space of the treble clef staff, you will use the same fingering for both instruments. When composers first created fingerings for band instruments, they decided to make each instrument transpose rather than playing actual sounding pitches. This made it possible to easily switch between similar instruments.

Sounding Range

One major difference that confuses players is that even though the fingers for written pitches will be identical on each saxophone, the actual sounding pitch will be different. The soprano sax will sound a major second lower than written. This means if you see a B-flat on the staff, the actual sounding pitch will be an A-flat. On the alto sax, if you see a B-flat on the staff, when you play, it will actually sound like a D-flat. This is because the alto sax sounds a major sixth lower than written. This phenomenon is called transposition.


The embouchure of a soprano and alto sax will be completely different. While you still maintain the same basic position between both instruments, with the teeth on top of the mouthpiece and the mouth forming a seal, you will be required to have a much stronger set of muscles in the embouchure to control the sound. Practice playing scales and long tones and you will develop the strength necessary to play the soprano sax. This added strength will also benefit your alto sax technique.

Finger Position

Don't let the curvature of the alto saxophone confuse you. You will still have the six main keys and the smaller keys. The only difference is that on the soprano sax, the keys are in a straight line, while on the alto sax, the instrument curves. The left hand still holds the three main keys at the top of the instrument with the pinky hovering over the extension keys, while the right hand holds the bottom three main keys with the pinky hovering over the lower extension keys.


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