Is Saxophone Easier To Play Than Flute?


For those wishing to master a musical instrument, a concern that may often pop up is whether the instrument in question is easy for them or not. If you're reading this, you may have heard that the saxophone is easier to learn than the flute and want to find out if that's indeed the case.

Is the saxophone easier to play than flute? The saxophone is arguably easier to play than the flute. Saxophones may present some level of challenge in their dynamic range, particularly if you wish to play softer notes. But, other than that, saxophones have a more intuitive fingering and an easier embouchure than most other woodwinds.

In this article, we'll discuss the differences between the flute and the saxophone, showcasing the distinct challenges you'll find when trying out both instruments.

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What Are The Differences Between A Saxophone And A Flute?

The flute and saxophone have different learning curves, but how different are the two instruments?

From the onset, the answer should be apparent. Their shapes are undoubtedly different, along with how they're supposed to be held. Saxophones are held vertically, while flutes are held horizontally (hence the name “transverse flute”).

Saxophones are likewise larger than flutes of a similar type and sport a tapered body, curved (with the exception of soprano and smaller variants) near the tail end (the bell).

Flutes are mostly cylindrical, with a slight taper at the head joint. Flutes don't have a bell, and larger flutes could have curves, though mostly located in the area near the embouchure hole.

Despite being of the same class (woodwinds), both instruments have differing blowing mechanisms.

Saxophones are equipped with a mouthpiece that houses a reed. This reed is pushed upwards by our lower lip, while the mouthpiece's upper lip supports our upper teeth. When we blow on the saxophone, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece, pushing air back and forth across the instrument's bore.

On the other hand, flutes have a large embouchure hole wherein we blow at a certain angle against an edge at the opposite end, causing the airflow to bounce and vibrate inside the tube.

Finally, the saxophone has a register (octave) key, whereas the flute doesn't. Flutes change octave according to our lip's positioning.

Related article: The Differences Between Saxophones & Flutes


Challenges Of Playing Saxophone Vs. Flute

Saxophones are easier to play than flutes upon first inspection. This has much to do with the blowing mechanism utilized. It also relates to the saxophone's much more recent history.

The flute is an older instrument than the saxophone, even if the modern version goes back to 1847. Adolphe Sax – the saxophone inventor- attempted to address many of the ergonomic and playability “issues” (for lack of a better term) present in more rudimentary woodwinds to produce a more malleable instrument.

In that sense, the saxophone has the advantage of being introduced late in the scene, as Adolphe Sax was learning from the mistakes of past inventions and correcting them as he was designing his new instrument.

With that in mind, we can begin to see why flutes give a much harder time to students than saxophones.

Producing sounds on a flute during the first few lessons could be an overly frustrating endeavour, to the point where students feel encouraged to abandon it early on. This is because the embouchure needs a lot of muscle memory and accuracy to match the instrument's demands.

The saxophone, conversely, has a much more manageable blowing mechanism because much of it relies on the interaction between the mouthpiece and the reed, as opposed to the flute, which transfers the burden almost entirely to the player. Maintaining a saxophone in tune may pose additional trials for students, but tuning issues have no bearing on the ability to produce audible sounds.

The flute's difficulty only gets higher with open-holed models. Open-holed flutes are variants of the transverse flute with open-holed keys equipped. These are meant to provide more tonal versatility to professional players.

However, open-holed flutes compel players to be far more aware of their fingering as their blow, for any finger misalignment would hamper the production of pure tones. For this reason, students are advised to begin their course with closed-hole flutes, as they can focus better on their embouchure. It's common to mistake fingering mistakes with embouchure problems otherwise.

Related article: Is Flute Fingering The Same As Saxophone?

Saxophones have their peculiar embouchure demands. You should pay attention to how much of the mouthpiece is introduced into the mouth. You also have to control your bite so it's not too loose or tight. Altissimo notes are some of the most difficult to attain, with precise embouchure techniques needed to pull them out efficiently.

Nevertheless, the flute's embouchure has the added hindrance of lacking any support, apart from the lip plate that provides a resting place for the lower lip.

In the case of the saxophone, the mouthpiece gives ample support for the lips, and while the lips have to be positioned in a specific way, you can use the mouthpiece as a guide. Nonetheless, you could experience lip soreness when you begin your saxophone course, which is something you won't experience with a flute.

One of the most challenging aspects of the saxophone stems from its dynamic range. Flutes also have this nuisance, but for different reasons.

Saxophones are designed to project sounds in a similar manner to brass instruments (though they're not exactly alike). In that sense, during the first practicing sessions, students will mostly stick to playing loud notes as they progressively acquire more nuance. Inversely, flute students will often feel dizziness trying to deliver louder notes in the lower range as they develop their technique.

When it comes to saxophone fingerings, apart from the number of keys you must be mindful of – to wit: Main keys, palm keys, thumb keys, and pinky keys – the octave mechanism also adds some complexity to your playing. Nevertheless, while the number of keys may seem overwhelming, you won't have to memorize as many combinations as in the case of the flute.

The octave mechanism of the flute may seem harder than that of the saxophone at first, partly because of what was explained earlier about sound production. However, once you can maintain correct embouchure, octave changes would feel a bit more intuitive to pull out.

In the saxophone, the octave key simplifies the register shifting mechanism to a great degree over flutes and even clarinets (which overblow at a 12th instead of an octave) but with the downside that you must always remember to press it if you want to attain the higher-pitched version of the note.

Judging from the discussion above, it should be safe to conclude that saxophones are much easier to play than flutes and most other woodwinds, owing to their many mechanical improvements over their predecessors.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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