The soprano saxophone is the third smallest member of the saxophone family. It is pitched in the key of B-flat, exactly one octave higher than a tenor saxophone. Like all saxophones, the soprano saxophone is a single reed instrument usually made of brass; it is typically straight and conical in shape, resembling a clarinet. The soprano saxophone is not recommended for beginning saxophone players, as it is notoriously difficult to master and has a distinctive, high pitched sound favored by many famous jazz artists.
Saxophones are a group of woodwind instruments invented in 1846 by Belgian clarinetist Adolphe Sax. There are a total of ten saxophones in the saxophone family, all varying in size and sound, yet with the same keys and fingerings. The sopranissimo is the smallest at just 7 inches (17.78 cm) in length and has the highest sounding pitch, followed by the sopranino saxophone.
The four most commonly known saxophones are increasingly larger and include the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. The three deepest sounding and largest saxophones are the bass, contrabass and sub-contrabass. The modern soprano saxophone, like the tenor saxophone, is pitched at B-flat, exactly one octave higher than the tenor. A C model soprano saxophone was available when the instrument was first invented, but was discontinued in favor of the B-flat model in 1940.
The vast majority of soprano saxophones are made of brass, though they are classified as part of the woodwind family because they use a single reed to produce sound rather than a mouthpiece. They typically have a straight, round shape, 27.56 inches (70 cm) long with an average width of 7.87 inches (20 cm), dimensions which are very similar to that of the clarinet. The similarities between the two instruments have led to the soprano saxophone's nickname, "The Golden Clarinet." Some soprano saxophone models are made of plastic resin, and some have a curved shape resembling a miniature alto saxophone, though these models are rare.
Soprano saxophones are not recommended for beginners, because they are considered the most difficult of all the saxophones to play. The small size make intonation extremely difficult, even for accomplished musicians. Soprano saxophones have become very popular with jazz musicians, however, who favor its unique sound. Famous jazz artists including John Coltrane, Kenny G, and Winton Marsalis have all regularly included the soprano saxophone in their repertoire and have featured it on their musical recordings. This instrument is also featured in a limited but growing list of classical music selections.