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Discussion Starter #1
I'm struggling with the tenor and soprano. The soprano is a Yanigasawa 1978 S6, in excellent shape. The mouthpiece is a rico metallite 7 (.065) and the reed is a vandoren java red. I recently switched from a 2.5 to a 3. When I switched, I lost my notes above C, but they will come back. The intonation improved, but still not great.
Here's the problem: the range is compressed; low notes are sharp, high notes are flat. If I push almost all the way in I can get the high C in tune, but then I have to lipped down the lower octave like crazy. No matter where I put the mouthpiece, I can't get everything in tune. Would a change of mouthpiece and/or reed help? practice routines? Any other advice?
Greatly appreciated,
Geoff Collier
 

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Normally, I would just suggest tone exercises, as I did earlier today to someone who asked a similar question, but the metallite is a strange mouthpiece. Among other things, it has a very high baffle, and therefore isn't a mouthpiece that I would recommend to beginners on the soprano.

Traditional mouthpieces with smallish chambers (e.g., Selmer Soloists or Super Sessions, Morgan Vintage, etc.) seem to work well on Mark VI sopranos (of which yours is a copy), so I would suggest that you find something more like that.

If you're interested, I have a few second-hand mouthpieces of this type available (listed in this post), in roughly the same tip opening as your metallite.
 

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Geoff - You might want to try a more conservative mouthpiece. Many like the Yamaha 4c (.047) - these are cheap and work really well. A .065 tip with a #3 reed is a pretty demanding set-up to control. Just my 2 cents. Good luck.
 

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I have played a couple of the S-6 and found they have a tendency to play a bit flat with any mouthpiece I used. If you are just beginning you chose a high baffle piece and I agree with Michel that you should "learn" on a more traditional piece with no baffle.
 

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I started on the metallite because I had graduated from a yamaha 4c on the tenor to the metallite. I am certainly having no trouble getting a big sound out with the current mouthpiece, except as noted, I lost everything above high C after going from a 2 1/2 to a 3. I found that when I went from a 5 (.060) to a 7 (.065) I was better able to lip up the high notes. So I wonder if going down to something much smaller would improve the situation or make it worse? Any other specific mouthpiece recommendations? Obviously, as long as I'm not sure, I would be buying inexpensive mouthpieces. If I knew exactly what I needed, I wouldn't mind spending some more serious money. Makes sense to experiment with the cheap ones first, though.

To mmichel: the link to the posted mouthpieces gives me a "forbidden" message for some reason. You can let me know what you've got directly: [email protected].
 

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I started on the metallite because I had graduated from a yamaha 4c on the tenor to the metallite. I am certainly having no trouble getting a big sound out with the current mouthpiece, except as noted, I lost everything above high C after going from a 2 1/2 to a 3. I found that when I went from a 5 (.060) to a 7 (.065) I was better able to lip up the high notes. So I wonder if going down to something much smaller would improve the situation or make it worse? Any other specific mouthpiece recommendations? Obviously, as long as I'm not sure, I would be buying inexpensive mouthpieces. If I knew exactly what I needed, I wouldn't mind spending some more serious money. Makes sense to experiment with the cheap ones first, though.

To mmichel: the link to the posted mouthpieces gives me a "forbidden" message for some reason. You can let me know what you've got directly: [email protected].
Hey,

Soprano is definitely a little different when it comes to intonation. I know that it pretty much goes without saying, but it is useful to remember (again and again) just how fine the tolerances have to be when we're talking about such a small instrument.

First step I like to take is to get the equipment out of the way; this way you can for sure know that it's you who's causing the problems and not the horn. :) Make sure the horn is in perfect working order (especially any split pad or coupled pad mechanisms it might have for aiding intonation in the palm keys). I agree with the others that your choice of mouthpiece is maybe a little adventurous. A yamaha 4C is a good choice, but if you want something with a round chamber (as I would!), maybe have a go on a Yanagisawa HR piece in a 5 or 6. I play a 7 myself and I find it helps me lock in intonation and I still get plenty of power and brightness if I feel like it. They're consistent and not horribly expensive.

Regarding your original post...
Flat palm keys: check that the keys open enough and that you are providing enough support with your embouchure to bring them up to pitch. You shouldn't be squeezing either, but lots of older horns often require a bit of extra help with the palm keys.
Sharp low notes: lots of horns (my S-880 included) have this. Unless it's a really bad case, I think you might just have to compensate. Luckily, it's easier in the lower register.

Some exercises/tips that might help you:

Entry air stream. I don't play soprano every time I play the sax, but when it's been a while, I usually like to start off by checking my entry air stream. By this, I mean making sure that my embouchure tightness isn't too high or too low, and that I'm not putting a tenor-sized amount of air through the instrument. If your instrument is well designed (which I'd expect an S6 to be!), then the whole range should respond pretty close to in tune provided that you are supplying the right kind of air. First, get the horn nice and warm and get your tuning note close enough and then start playing medium-long notes at a medium dynamic on middle C or B or somewhere around there. Experiment with starting it slightly sharper or flatter until you find the right pitch that seems to work for you and helps you play across the registers in a relaxed way. Be patient and really spend time on this - it's worth it.

Intonation. You need to get to know your horn very well. I remember talking to a friend of mine who actually made a chart of how flat/sharp various notes on his horn were when he tuned to concert Bb. There's probably no need to go this far, but it's worth it getting to know the tendencies of various notes.

Some exercises

For general intonation and getting to know the horn:
I find arpeggio and triad-based exercises to be very helpful. Most of us are really familiar with these sounds, so it's easy to know if you're way off without needing a tuner. I usually play very legato descending or ascending major or minor triads, sitting on each note for around 2 seconds. So, for example, C - A - F - C until I am satisfied with the intonation on each note and that notes aren't breaking up when I move between them. After this, I'll move down/up chromatically or in steps or in whatever pattern I feel like going. Some guidelines: (1) make sure you play with a neutral embouchure and don't fool around too much with tension or tongue position. If your horn is well designed, you should let it do its job. Also, you need to know what the horn will do naturally before you start telling it you want something else. (2) Do this across all registers. If you practice registers in isolation, you will quickly begin to develop isolated ways of playing each register (i.e. a different embouchure position and tightness). This will result in a wildly varied and inconsistent approach (not the best!).

Staying relaxed in the palm keys:
This one is harder, but it is helpful if you're finding it hard to stay relaxed. Start on high D and then press down your high Eb, but use your lips and throat to keep the pitch the same. Next, add high E and eventually high F, all while keeping the pitch at D and not letting the note break up. Once you can do this easily, move down to high C# and add D, Eb, E, F while keeping the pitch at C#. And then try C! This will greatly improve your flexibility, which in combination with active ears, will give you the tools you need to correct intonation.

Soprano is fun. Good luck!
 

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I started on the metallite because I had graduated from a yamaha 4c on the tenor to the metallite. I am certainly having no trouble getting a big sound out with the current mouthpiece…
The soprano is a very different animal than the tenor. You'd be better off playing the alto first and building up some serious chops (lip and face muscles) before attempting the soprano. Intonation on the soprano is difficult because (like the trumpet) you almost have to "hear" the notes before you play them. Try working with the Tuning CD 15 minutes a day for training your ears and chops.

The suggestion of a Selmer Super Session is a good one. Your mouthpiece is not right for someone starting out.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Normally, I would just suggest tone exercises, as I did earlier today to someone who asked a similar question, but the metallite is a strange mouthpiece. Among other things, it has a very high baffle, and therefore isn't a mouthpiece that I would recommend to beginners on the soprano.
I agree about the metallic

I started on the metallite because I had graduated from a yamaha 4c on the tenor to the metallite.

I'm not sure that changing from a 4C to a metallaite is actually "graduating" Did the intonation get worse when you switched or was it bad previously? I'm asking because like others I think the metlaiiite could be the cause. Either the mouthpiece or you. (Sorry to say that, but without hearing you play and knowing the that the horn is a decent horn)

Another thing is that if the intonation got better when switching to a harder reed, then I'd say definitely you need work on your embouchure. It's also totally wrong that with change in reed you can no longer play some notes. I think you should go back to the softer reed and work on that, the harder reed has made some things easier, but other things difficult or impossible. This is often the case and an indication that you should not be using that reed.

So yes, practising tone and pitch exercises would be useful but I would first make sure that you aren't struggling with what on the face of it is not the ideal mouthpiece for a beginner on soprano. Of course it may also be worth getting the horn checked out to make sure it is all adjusted correctly.
 

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Somebody on here (I think maybe Joe Giardullo) said that if a soprano - any soprano - won't play in tune with a Selmer S80 C*, then something is wrong with the horn and/or the player. I found this to be very true and helpful. I think my old Conn horn is set up now pretty all right, but there are things seriously wrong with me as a player, yet I can play a really well in-tune scale, top to bottom, with an S80 C*. Even better, it sounds really nice with this horn when you put the right reed on it and the right kind of soprano air to it, which is not at all what I expected based on listening to S80s on baritone, tenor and alto.
When people say "tip opening is the least significant thing about a mouthpiece" and stuff like that, it is a truism. If nothing else, tip opening is a HUGE factor in pitch control, and while it may pose no problem for a decent tenor player, even an accomplished player faces unique pitch challenges on soprano, and I'm not that great but I really appreciate the pitch control I get from a close tip on soprano. As for "big sound", tip opening really is of little significance there. It may make you louder (SPL), but "projection", "big sound", etc. are more a matter of air and chops.
I would think an S80 would be very well-suited to your horn, which is basically a MkVI clone, right?
A lot of top (mostly tenor) players play on a C* or similar mouthpiece for soprano, even if they use a bigger-tip, more demanding piece for tenor.
I play a #8 Link-like piece on tenor, and I love the C* on soprano.
The usual disclaimers apply:
YMMV
Every mouthpiece is different, even same make/model/facing.
REED is key. A crappy reed (which 3 out of 5 easily are, out of the box), or the wrong strength/cut of reed, can make the best (even the most "reed-friendly") mouthpiece play like crap, and vice versa.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Thanks all for the various advice! I was aware, when I purchased the soprano, that the idea of me, a beginner on the tenor, picking up a soprano was crazy. But I'm 65, and you only live once. (I'm really a guitarist).

Obviously, I need to try a different mouthpiece. Both the S80 C* and Super session were suggested. The latter is about double the price. Worth the difference?

To reiterate, my problem isn't individual notes, it's the whole range. Either I shove the mouthpiece way in and lip down the lower notes like crazy, or not and live with the high notes being flat, or some compromise. I don't know which way to go. In the meantime, I'll explore going back to the 2.5 reed (as someone suggested), and some of the practice routines that have been suggested, while I hunt for a different mouthpiece. The rico metallite 5 was what I started on (then moved to a 7), and I only did so because I had one for tenor and it was working fine. So I'm not married to it.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Obviously, I need to try a different mouthpiece. Both the S80 C* and Super session were suggested. The latter is about double the price. Worth the difference?
No.

Working on your playing (tone and pitch exercises) will be best, but also you will probably find a mouthpiece that works - but you probably won't find what will work best for you by asking people on the internet - you'll only hear what works for them. I'm still wondering about why not the 4C, they are good mouthpieces.
 
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