Saxophone generally produce a loud sound compared to other instruments in a band or orchestra. But can a saxophone play quietly as well?
Saxophone can be played quietly by using the right embouchure and breadth support. The ability to play notes at different levels of quietness such as pianissimo, piano, and mezzo piano can be developed through improved tongue position and mouthpiece placement.
Aside from technique, there are a few ways to reduce the noise while practicing the sax, including using a sax mute and practicing in a soundproofed room.
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How loud is the saxophone?
Saxophone is perceived louder than most wind instruments because of strong tones and bell shape.
The sound of a saxophone projects from the bell similar to other woodwinds such as clarinet. Since the saxophone is cone shaped and the bell is larger more vibrations and overtones escape creating a louder sound.
Sound from a saxophone upward curved bell travels up and around the space it occupies. A saxophone note has increased volume because of overtones heard in addition to the pitch being played.
The volume of a saxophone reaches over 100 decibels.
Depending on the player notes in the highest octave may ring louder than lower octaves and vice versa.
Since the saxophone plays multiple frequencies for one note, the warmth and richness is perceived louder.
In comparison a clarinet or flute reaches up to 114 decibels but does not have the full sound of louder instruments such as the saxophone or trumpet.
The loudest instrument in a marching band, the trombone, only averages one decibel higher than the saxophone.
Can you play softly on the saxophone?
Playing softer on a saxophone requires development of technique. A strong embouchure gives you control to play softer dynamics.
Strengthen your embouchure by removing your mouthpiece and blowing air into the mouthpiece until the sound is pleasant.
A relaxed bottom lip generates a louder and fuller sound. Tuck your lower lip over your bottom teeth and raise your tongue to reduce airflow for a softer sound.
You can take in less mouthpiece to lower the volume of your sound. The position of your mouth will reduce the gap between the reed and mouthpiece, which will lower the volume of your playing.
Practice long tones to gain control of how much air you blow into the saxophone. Aim for a steady flow of air with less pressure to produce a softer sound.
You can use a silencer such as the Jazzlab Silencer for Saxophone and Clarinet to do mouthpiece exercises quietly.
Mouthpiece and reed for quiet playing
Saxophone is a versatile instrument that can be altered to play loudly or softly through the mouthpiece and reed combination. The best way to select a proper reed and mouthpiece to get the desired results is through trial and error.
Visit a local music store and test mouthpieces with varying tip openings. Pair the mouthpiece with different reed strengths until the match that produces the softest sound is found.
Playing saxophone with a softer reed requires less air to play a note. The reduced pressure into the instrument will lessen the volume of your playing.
For a beginner, playing softly will affect your sound quality. Developing these techniques over time will allow you to play saxophone quietly without impacting the quality of your sound.
Can you mute a saxophone?
Muting a saxophone is not the same as muting other instruments. An instrument like a trumpet only has sound coming from the bell. Covering a trumpet bell significantly reduces the volume and/or alters the sound.
The sound of a saxophone comes out of the bell and the holes covered by the keys. An effective saxophone mute for volume control will cover both bell and keys.
A cheaper alternative to mute a saxophone is placing towels and/or clothes over or inside the bell. The downside of this option is obstruction to the lowest notes on the instrument such as low Bb.
Saxophone mutes generally soften the harshness of the instrument. The change in tone quality does not outweigh the value of a good saxophone mute for practicing purposes.
Another option is practicing with an electronic saxophone. This is the option with the most amount of volume control. Saxophones like the Roland Aerophone AE-10 have a silencing option with headphones.
Electronic saxophones are helpful to practice a lick or scales, but do not improve tone or embouchure.
Practicing without disturbing others?
When you’re playing indoors, factors such as room size, flooring, and walls impact how far the saxophone sound travels.
A smaller room such as a closet is less expensive to temper the sound. In this small space the frequencies have less spaces to bounce off.
Dampen the sound of a small room like a closet with clothes or noise canceling blankets. Aim to enclose the horn as much as possible when using objects to stop the sound from traveling.
In a larger space, cover any surface that the saxophone sound can bounce off such as a hardwood floor or bare walls. Use carpet on the floors and sound absorption foam or padding to soundproof the space.
It may be easier to pick a corner rather than attempting to soundproof the entire room. Place padding on both walls of the corner and play with the saxophone bell facing where the two walls join. Lower ceilings are ideal.
The saxophone sound lessens in volume with greater distance. A distant room such as a basement or attic can be a good alternative practice space.
Practice outside home
Your practice sessions for long tones, higher pitched notes, and difficult material may be louder and less tolerable than scales or music you have mastered.
Create a practice schedule based on the type of material, and group louder, more demanding sessions together.
Consider options outside of the home like a park or beach for the days your playing will be loudest.
Local music stores often have practice rooms open to the public for a small fee. You can also check with a music teacher to use soundproofed rooms in a school nearby.