Learning a new instrument is a gratifying experience, but it will require frequent and often noisy practicing sessions.
If you or someone you know is just beginning to learn how to play the saxophone, you might have some questions about the instrument’s volume.
In this article, I’ll tell you all you need to know about how loud saxophones really are, including from my own experience.
Saxophones are loud, especially compared to woodwinds like flutes and clarinets. They have a decent range of volume, but even if you put in the effort, it’s tricky to play the instrument quietly. If you’re learning to play the saxophone, expect to spend a lot of time practicing behind closed doors.
How Loud Are Saxophones Compared to Other Instruments?
Saxophones are loud compared to other instruments, depending on which of the four common saxophone variants you’re referring to.
A baritone saxophone’s volume range is comparable to a tuba or sousaphone, while a soprano saxophone’s volume range is smaller and comparable to that of a clarinet.
Let’s take a closer look at how each saxophone variant compares to other instruments in terms of loudness.
Here’s a list of common wind ensemble instruments in order from quietest to loudest:
- Soprano saxophone
- Bass clarinet
- French horn
- Alto saxophone
- Tenor saxophone
- Baritone saxophone
As you can see, the soprano saxophone is relatively quiet, while the baritone saxophone is considered to be very loud.
The alto saxophone and tenor saxophone fall in the middle.
How Loud Are the 4 Common Sax Types Compared to Each Other?
Believe it or not, there were originally 14 different types of saxophones, with six still being used today. The others are considered rare.
Out of those six, four have the most usage. These four include the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.
The 4 common sax types have different volume ranges compared to each other. The soprano saxophone is the quietest of the four, with the alto saxophone following at a slight volume increase. The tenor is louder than the alto, and the baritone is the loudest of the four.
The soprano has the highest pitch, and the pitch lowers as you move to the alto, tenor, and baritone, with the baritone having the deepest sound of them all.
It’s the same with volume. The volume variation between these four instruments is directly related to their size.
The soprano is the smallest and requires less air to make a sound, so it’s not able to have as much volume as the baritone, which is a lot larger and requires a lot more breath power to actually get the instrument to make an audible noise.
The alto is louder than the soprano and quieter than the tenor, while the tenor is louder than the alto and quieter than the baritone.
Can You Play the Saxophone Quietly?
We’ve established that saxophones are pretty loud in relation to other instruments. But is it possible to play the saxophone quietly?
You can play the saxophone quietly with the right embouchure and breath control. It’s possible to play at a lower volume with enough practice, but it can be difficult.
Out of the four most common saxophone variants, It’s easier to play quietly with the soprano, as this variant happens to be the smallest.
It becomes more difficult as you switch to an alto, tenor, or baritone saxophone.
With a baritone saxophone, it’s actually quite a challenge to play quietly.
You need a lot of breath power to make a noise at all, so a baritone at its most quiet will still be relatively loud!
While playing a bari sax you’ll also build up a lot of moisture inside the instrument, making its spit valve that much more useful.
4 Helpful Tips for Playing the Saxophone Quietly
While it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it, it is possible to play the saxophone quietly while maintaining a decent level of sound quality.
Here are my tips for playing the saxophone quietly:
- Practice controlling your breath.
- Maintain good posture.
- Use a saxophone mute.
- Find the right embouchure (tongue and mouthpiece positioning).
Let’s explain each of these tips in further detail.
Practice Controlling Your Breath
Breath control is one of the most essential parts of playing any wind instrument, and it’s especially so with the saxophone.
With proper breathing techniques, you can control the amount of air you direct into your instrument and play more quietly as a result.
However, it’s not always as simple as blowing less air. There are other factors to consider, too, such as embouchure and posture.
Maintain Good Posture
Posture is a vital factor to consider when playing a wind instrument. This is because posture directly affects how your lungs are positioned inside your body.
This, in turn, affects the amount of breath you can take in and how you can manage it.
If you want to maintain good saxophone posture, try sitting up as straight as you can in your chair, with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Soprano saxophone posture will be similar to a clarinet or an oboe. You want to hold the instrument directly in front of you without resting it on the chair or your music stand.
The alto, tenor, and baritone use neck straps and harnesses, making them easier to hold.
You should position these instruments to the side of your body, not directly in front of you.
It’s tempting to lean to the side or back while playing the saxophone, but you should try to sit up as straight as possible.
Good posture will take some getting used to, but it’s crucial for volume control and maintaining a good sound overall.
Use a Saxophone Mute
Using a saxophone mute is another way to play the instrument quietly.
However, you should keep in mind that saxophone mutes will affect the sound and tone of your instrument.
If this sound fits the style you wish to play in, that’s perfectly fine. However, some people aren’t very fond of the sound.
A saxophone mute will be very helpful if you’re practicing at home and need to stay quiet to avoid disturbing others.
Find the Right Embouchure
Embouchure is one of the most determining factors behind a saxophone’s sound—especially the instrument’s volume.
Embouchure is how you position your tongue and lips in relation to the instrument’s mouthpiece.
- You must find the proper embouchure if you want to play the saxophone quietly without a mute.
This can be a bit tricky, so if you’re stuck, you might want to watch some videos online to help you find an embouchure that works.
Do Saxophone Mutes Really Work?
Saxophone mutes really work. They won’t mute the sound entirely because this is not what they’re designed to do.
However, a good saxophone mute will stop the instrument from being too loud.
Using a mute is a great way to play the saxophone quietly if you would rather focus on your playing technique rather than controlling the volume.
Does the Saxophone Sound Stand Out in Concert or Marching Band Situations?
The saxophone does stand out in concert and marching band situations. It’s relatively easier to blend with the soprano and alto saxophones because they’re quieter, but the tenor and baritone saxophones will definitely stand out, with the baritone standing out the most.
However, in my experience, they stand out much more in marching band situations. This is because concert ensembles focus a lot more on blend.
While marching bands do pay attention to blend, there is a greater emphasis on other factors, such as playing loud enough for the music to carry out to the audience, which is tricky in outdoor settings.
In my school experience, I played the baritone saxophone when we did marching and pep band performances.
It was always louder than the other instruments around me—even the tenor saxophone—but still quieter than a sousaphone.
While each saxophone variant has its own range of volume, saxophones are considered relatively loud instruments.
The soprano saxophone is the quietest out of the standard four, with the alto being louder, the tenor being louder than the alto, and the baritone being the loudest.
If you need to play the saxophone quietly, try practicing good posture, breath control, and embouchure. You can also play with a mute.