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View Full Version : Why do people say sopranos are hard to play?



wherahiko
11-13-2017, 09:36 AM
There are many comments on the internet, here and elsewhere, suggesting that "sopranos are hard to play". They usually mention the close fret spacing and short string length. But a soprano's string length is almost identical to that of a violin, and that hasn't stopped people playing Paganini caprices on violin(!). (In fact, it's usually considered harder to play such virtuosic music on the viola.) The soprano's string length is also identical to a mandolin, but Chris Thile, Mike Marshall and others can work wonders on mandolin.

Is it possible to play Jake style on a soprano? Does anyone do it? I ask this in earnest. I've never played a tenor, and like the size and sound of sopranos and concerts. Do I need a tenor in order to attempt the figurations that Jake, James et. al. do on their tenors?

Tudorp
11-13-2017, 09:51 AM
Just play what ya like and have fun. My sizes of choice is a sopranino, and Concert. I have no idea why people would say Soprano is hard to play. I played Soprano almost exclusively. Its not a "size thing" because I am 6'5" and several years ago weighed 700 lbs, and played my Soprano and Sopranino with no problem (I gave IZ a run for his money Girthwise, not musical wise. ;) ). Thank God I am not 700 lbs anymore (lost over 350 of those), but still play the sopranino, and a concert.

Pirate Jim
11-13-2017, 09:59 AM
I think it's often the narrow nut width that can make a soprano feel cramped. Especially with three or four finger chords, if the nut is narrow it can be hard to squash them in. The violin comparison doesn't work very well because there are no frets to restrict the space and they are usually played for melody (one note at a time) rather than rhythm (all strings at once). Proper mandolin technique is very different to playing a uke - instead of barring, for example, the strings are close enough to fret two courses (i.e. four strings) with the pad of one finger. Apples and oranges!

I have a two sopranos with the typical 34mm nut width and one that's a shade over 35mm at the nut. The difference in ease of playing is ridiculous - 1mm shouldn't make that much difference but it really does. Would like to try one of the properly wide nut ones like a Martin or Kiwaya at some point.

Croaky Keith
11-13-2017, 10:01 AM
I agree, play what you want, a soprano just has less sustain than larger ukes. It isn't my preferred scale, but I did have an electro acoustic soprano with low G strings when I started my uke journey.

DownUpDave
11-13-2017, 10:01 AM
Where is the "can of worms" Emoji when you need one:p

Ukulele Eddie
11-13-2017, 10:05 AM
<snipped>
Is it possible to play Jake style on a soprano? Does anyone do it? I ask this in earnest. I've never played a tenor, and like the size and sound of sopranos and concerts. Do I need a tenor in order to attempt the figurations that Jake, James et. al. do on their tenors?

Generally no, it wouldn't be, because most of Jake's music leverages a lot of the real estate of a tenor fretboard, and a soprano doesn't have the same octave range.

That's not to say that in the right hands somebody cannot shred on a soprano. If you're not familiar with him, check out George Elmes.

Graham Greenbag
11-13-2017, 10:12 AM
I have a preference for the Soprano size but did find an issue with fingerspace until I respaced the strings (special replacement nut). I don’t finger pick (yet) so am limited to strumming and the first five frets, but some folk manage to finger pick on the higher frets easily enough. Assuming reasonable finger mobility and dexterity the Soprano, with 10 mm spaced Strings, is perfectly playable if less forgiving of poor technique and quieter than its larger brothers.

MopMan
11-13-2017, 10:30 AM
Why do people say sopranos are hard to play?

Everyone is entitled to express an opinion even if it is a wrong one.

Ukulelerick9255
11-13-2017, 10:44 AM
I don’t know why, my girlfriend is a soprano and she’s not hard to play at all ����

Ziret
11-13-2017, 10:53 AM
Generally no, it wouldn't be, because most of Jake's music leverages a lot of the real estate of a tenor fretboard, and a soprano doesn't have the same octave range.

That's not to say that in the right hands somebody cannot shred on a soprano. If you're not familiar with him, check out George Elmes.

I'm not sure what you're saying here, and because of that, I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with you, but from the photos I've seen, Jake's uke has 18 frets. My soprano has 17. Both are strung reentrant, so they have nearly the same octave range. Of course they don't sound the same. Could you please clarify?

I agree completely about George!

When playing soprano or concert, and probably tenor too, it's a major benefit of you can bend the first joint of your finger and cover two or three strings at once. I can't imagine doing D any other way. And as mentioned, a wide neck can be nice. As far as difficulty goes, each size has its challenges. I find the distance between frets on anything larger than a concert difficult. The kind of music you want to play is a big factor in which size will be easiest.

Having said all that I see no reason you couldn't try the acrobatics of any tenor player on a concert. I think playing like George on a tenor would be difficult! Playing like George on anything would be difficult.

Ukulele Eddie
11-13-2017, 11:09 AM
I'm not sure what you're saying here, and because of that, I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with you, but from the photos I've seen, Jake's uke has 18 frets. My soprano has 17. Both are strung reentrant, so they have nearly the same octave range. Of course they don't sound the same. Could you please clarify?


Sure, let me try it this way. The scale length determines how many frets are useable. The typical soprano is 13" scale or thereabouts. A tenor is 17". The longer scale provides a much wider range of useable notes available.

MopMan
11-13-2017, 11:25 AM
Sure, let me try it this way. The number of frets is not what determines the octive range. The scale is the determining factor. The typical soprano is 13" scale or thereabouts. A tenor is 17". The longer scale provides a much wider range of notes available.

Would this not be determined by the number of frets rather than the scale length?

Ukulele Eddie
11-13-2017, 11:43 AM
Would this not be determined by the number of frets rather than the scale length?

Fret placement is mathematically determined by scale length. The range from the lowest to highest note is constrained by the scale. There is a question of how many frets a luthier choses to provide, but the maximum number is limited by the scale length, though certainly usefulness comes into question as frets can get so narrow as to be useless. That's why you see some sopranos with only 12 frets and others with more. It's very challenging for most people to make worthy notes much above the 12th fret of a soprano.

70sSanO
11-13-2017, 01:04 PM
A lot of fingerstyle, Jake and others, can be done in 15 frets. I have tried to play that style and the real estate is a little to compressed for me. However if you look at the late John King, the answer should be yes. What an amazing person and player.

John

Booli
11-13-2017, 01:15 PM
Why do people say sopranos are hard to play?

Sounds like beginners just parroting what they heard from someone else, who was also woefully misinformed...

...which happens often due to either ignorance and/or lack of hands-on personal experience.

--

A 17-18 fret soprano, strung either re-entrant or linear, when compared to concert or tenor with SAME number of frets and also strung/tuned re-entrant or linear to MATCH the tuning of the soprano, in fact all have the same 'relative note range'.

To suggest that a 17 fret soprano and a 17 fret tenor have different note ranges when tuned/strung the same, is simply incorrect.

I suggest that folks on this tangent check their facts with either a tuner or on Wikipedia via:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukulele#Types_and_sizes.

However, as usual, the opinion of some folks will not change the facts of science, but the facts of science can influence those folks with an open mind, to change their opinions.

Opinions are like the genes in our DNA, everybody's got some, which includes defective/recessive ones. :)

dinghy
11-13-2017, 01:27 PM
ahoy

don't think playing soprano
is any harder than playing tenor or concert

have tried all three
fell in love with the sound and feel of soprano

your results may vary
offer not good in sector R or D

yours truly
mac

RafterGirl
11-13-2017, 01:29 PM
After a bit of experimenting with different size ukuleles (soprano, concert, tenor) I consider the concert to be the most comfortable for me personally. The concert is my every day player. To introduce some variety, I bought a soprano with 14 frets to the body and a wider 1.5 inch nut. Some stuff is easier, some is harder, but all in all it's perfectly fine. The soprano will serve me quite well as my outdoor uke that fits better inside my sea kayak. I will probably add a long neck soprano to get the soprano sound with the concert scale that I find more comfortable. I have a lovely tenor that I've tried to embrace, but it just feels too big for me, so I'm sending it on to a new owner. I think what's easy or difficult depends on way too many variables to classify.... like hand size, finger size, dexterity & flexibility, style of play, and personal preference to name a few.

I not sure if this is a soprano or a concert, but this dude is having a lot of fun on the ukulele..... Australian actor who plays guitar and ukulele.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_SH5w2hZt4

robinboyd
11-13-2017, 01:31 PM
Well, I own Soprano, Concert, and Tenor ukes, and I find Sopranos a little bit cramped. Just personal preference, but that's why I say it.

zztush
11-13-2017, 01:48 PM
Hi, MopMan!


Would this not be determined by the number of frets rather than the scale length?

We have always only 12 frets in the first 1/2 of the scale (see the figure below). We can not add many frets in the 2nd half. The only way to expand second half is adding scale length. We often shift neck joint from 12 to 14 fret.

https://s7.postimg.org/4ox92jpwr/image.png (https://postimages.org/)

It is only 3 fret difference in this case on the figure. Soprano with low G string is larger range than high G tenor. Soprano is not bad at all.

bratsche
11-13-2017, 01:56 PM
But a soprano's string length is almost identical to that of a violin, and that hasn't stopped people playing Paganini caprices on violin(!). (In fact, it's usually considered harder to play such virtuosic music on the viola.)

That depends entirely on the person. While I'm certainly not a virtuoso, I began my playing career on violin, and switched to viola in my mid twenties. It suited me a whole lot better, and despite being a woman of average to short height and build, the tension problems I'd been having with violin melted away. Yes, I found it easier to play the same pieces on viola than violin. I'm convinced it's something rooted in the neck and shoulder posture. Anyway, years later I found that mandola suited me better than mandolin as well, to the point that my left hand was far more comfortable stretching to reach notes than it was scrunching down to fit a lot of fingers in a small space. And when I discovered ukuleles, I gravitated toward the bigger ones as well, for similar reasons. It's all good, because the lower tonalities appeal to me more anyway. Guess I was just meant to play the bigger instruments, although violin was great to learn on as a child.

bratsche

MopMan
11-13-2017, 02:13 PM
Fret placement is mathematically determined by scale length. The range from the lowest to highest note is constrained by the scale. There is a question of how many frets a luthier choses to provide, but the maximum number is limited by the scale length, though certainly usefulness comes into question as frets can get so narrow as to be useless. That's why you see some sopranos with only 12 frets and others with more.


We have always only 12 frets in the first 1/2 of the scale (see the figure below). We can not add many frets in the 2nd half. The only way to expand second half is adding scale length. We often shift neck joint from 12 to 14 fret.

I get what you are saying: extra frets may not be useful on a soprano because the spacing will be tight. Whether they exist is influenced by the scale length of the instrument and whether they are usable depends on your dexterity. But those extra frets do determine the effective range of the instrument.

To answer OP wherahiko's original question then, it might be best to suggest that soprano ukuleles and larger scale instruments might better suit different styles of play. If you want to use 100% of your fretboard real estate, a soprano may well be more difficult to play depending on your personal physiology and skill. If you are just strumming on the first 5 frets, then it all comes down to preference.

zztush
11-13-2017, 02:16 PM
Hi, viola (bratche)!

When anyone talks about the size of instruments, I always recall Inotomo. She is superb musical in Japan. Her instruments are guitalele and Gibson's jumbo guitar. I prefer small guitars and ukulele.

https://s7.postimg.org/a2w1a2krv/image.png (https://postimages.org/)

Ukulele Eddie
11-13-2017, 03:55 PM
I get what you are saying: extra frets may not be useful on a soprano because the spacing will be tight. Whether they exist is influenced by the scale length of the instrument and whether they are usable depends on your dexterity. But those extra frets do determine the effective range of the instrument.

To answer OP wherahiko's original question then, it might be best to suggest that soprano ukuleles and larger scale instruments might better suit different styles of play. If you want to use 100% of your fretboard real estate, a soprano may well be more difficult to play depending on your personal physiology and skill. If you are just strumming on the first 5 frets, then it all comes down to preference.

Well said.

Another point is that a soprano body will not have the same resonance as a tenor body which would also make it challenging to reproduce the sound of certain music composed on a tenor and availing itself of much of the fretboard real estate.

kypfer
11-13-2017, 10:01 PM
There are many comments on the internet, here and elsewhere, suggesting that "sopranos are hard to play". They usually mention the close fret spacing and short string length. But a soprano's string length is almost identical to that of a violin, and that hasn't stopped people playing Paganini caprices on violin(!).

A classic example of not comparing like-to-like and making an invalid conclusion!

Take a statement out of context or abbreviated and you can make spaghetti taste like steak!

Sopranos are "hard to play" when fretting four-finger chords with big fingers ... simple arithmetic ... they just won't fit comfortably.

Violins are primarily used to play melodies, mostly one note at a time ... finger-size doesn't come into it.

String a soprano ukulele like a violin (AKA 5th's tuning, GDAE) and you'll be able to play Paganini caprices using the same fingering that you would on a violin ... you'll need an adept right hand and it won't sound the same, but it could be done!

zztush
11-13-2017, 10:02 PM
Hi, Dave!


Where is the "can of worms" Emoji when you need one:p

Here we have a can of worms!

https://s7.postimg.org/xyc74ryyz/image.png (https://postimages.org/)

keod
11-14-2017, 03:35 AM
Great discussion that I think may have cured my UAS as it has clarified so many things for me.

DownUpDave
11-14-2017, 03:37 AM
Hi, Dave!



Here we have a can of worms!

https://s7.postimg.org/xyc74ryyz/image.png (https://postimages.org/)

Thanks ZZ

I will give my 2 cents. A soprano is harder for "me" to play cleanly then a tenor because of the tight fret spacing, especially above the 5th fret. There are many excellent players that do a great job well up the neck on a soprano, I am not one of them.

Sopranos are fun to play, the small size makes it comfortable and relaxing to play and hold.

Rllink
11-14-2017, 03:41 AM
I love drama, especially violin drama. I don't know all the math when it comes to ukulele scales. And I don't do a lot of comparison studies, because I don't have a very big selection of ukuleles to compare to each other. Besides, my brain doesn't work that way anyway. But I play a concert, and my one and only ukulele student has a soprano. Because she likes to be plugged in so she can be a rock star, and because her little soprano doesn't have a pickup, when she comes for lessons we trade. I have not even noticed the difference between the two when it comes to playing them. And evidently she hasn't either, because we go back and forth between the two and neither of us seem to suffer because of it. Furthermore, I'm not playing up above the 12th fret anyway. I mean, if someone is playing above the 12th fret, they aren't doing what I'm doing. I'm playing songs and singing them, not dinking around up there in the high notes, so for me that isn't an issue. That has been my limited experience.

EWeiss
11-14-2017, 04:30 AM
For me the advantage of the tenor vs. the soprano comes in the sound I get out of notes beyond the 7th fret. I play pretty low cost instruments so it may not by an issue on higher quality ukes. I found anything on 10th/12th fret was way too plinky on a soprano. I still love it for strumming away chords. I want to see if the longer neck sopranos do a little better with the higher notes.

spookelele
11-14-2017, 05:48 AM
Theres also the issue of reach. Getting to 15 on a tenor is just over the body edge. On a sop, it's going to be three frets over the body. Being able to finger stuff farther over the body is harder. If you're just tring to bar, and extend with a pinky on the A string... thats not so bad, but if you're trying to go across the fretboard above the 12th, it's going to be harder on a sop than a tenor. I don't go there often, but I do sometimes.

And obviously people do play up there... or there would be no need for a cutaway

Ziret
11-14-2017, 05:58 AM
Fret placement is mathematically determined by scale length. The range from the lowest to highest note is constrained by the scale. There is a question of how many frets a luthier choses to provide, but the maximum number is limited by the scale length, though certainly usefulness comes into question as frets can get so narrow as to be useless. That's why you see some sopranos with only 12 frets and others with more. It's very challenging for most people to make worthy notes much above the 12th fret of a soprano.
Thanks, I see what you're saying.

wayfarer75
11-14-2017, 11:17 AM
Not hard for me! I play my fastest on a soprano. But I don't have giant man hands, I have short little lady fingers. :D

Booli
11-14-2017, 12:49 PM
ok, Adios folks!

Peace Be With You. :)

stevepetergal
11-15-2017, 02:04 AM
Where is the "can of worms" Emoji when you need one:p

You said it, Dave.

WS64
11-15-2017, 07:17 AM
I never heard anyone saying that soprano is hard to play. And if they would, I'd disagree.
However, most very cheap ukuleles are sopranos, and some (maybe most) of these toys ARE hard to play.
But if you got a real instrument it is not hard to play.

What I don't like on soprano is that most just have 12 bars. I often need at least 13, and 15 are even better. Everything above though I think is not really usable (on sopranos).

Hilomar
11-15-2017, 09:14 AM
I have a few ukes..I prefer my sopranos..fits in the arm nice..I think playing chords on the soprano easier! When I first started playing soprano I went for wider neck but nowadays I much prefer narrow neck..and of course sopranos have such a lovely chirpy sound

Tootler
11-17-2017, 10:18 PM
I don't find any scale of uke easier or more difficult than any other.

When you first buy an instrument of a different scale length than the one(s) you are used to then there is a period of adjustment as you get used to the new size when it might feel more difficult but over time that feeling goes. At least it did for me.

TopDog
11-17-2017, 10:28 PM
I am a big chap with quite large hands,and my
'weapon of choice' is always a soprano! I have
tried every scale there is, (and currently still own
two concert scale instruments) but as my signature
implies,Soprano's are what 'does it' for me!

Lapyang
11-18-2017, 12:52 AM
I find Soprano very pleasant to play. I used to think I were a Concert man, but lately I prefer Soprano more. I am also a cello player so I am used to long scale length.
The sound and size of a Soprano just make me happy.

Pukulele Pete
11-18-2017, 01:19 AM
Who is this person that says sopranos are harder to play ?

Graham Greenbag
11-18-2017, 11:56 PM
I think what's easy or difficult depends on way too many variables to classify.... like hand size, finger size, dexterity & flexibility, style of play, and personal preference to name a few.

:agree:



I not sure if this is a soprano or a concert, but this dude is having a lot of fun on the ukulele..... Australian actor who plays guitar and ukulele.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_SH5w2hZt4

Impressive. To me it looks like a Soprano and not an expensive one. I checked out this guy and it seems that he’s a very able guitar player who also plays Uke. His main work is acting. He keeps a Pink Mahalo too but to my ear it doesn’t sound much so I’ve not bothered adding a video link of it - the black/dark one might be a Mahalo as well but if so then perhaps it’s an unusually good one that’s been well sorted too.

I think that this guy is a good example of a skilled musician who makes the Soprano size Uke work for then. In the past - still do too - I have wondered whether the original (late 1800’s) Soprano Ukes were essentially a (thoughtfully scaled down to be) compact size and cost effective travel instrument that (still) works rather well.

frianm
11-19-2017, 12:28 AM
I have a small group who I am teaching - all over 65 - and they do have great difficulty getting the left hand to work well. Often a concert or tenor gives a little more finger space. I am fortunate to have been playing the guitar since I was 12, have got used to narrow necks when playing the banjo and then playing an early banjo ukulele by Slingerland. My hands are used to XL gloves and my fingers are large. I prefer the soprano and find no difficulty. The instrument has so many delightful qualities, not least the happy sound. I belief it is practice and technique that makes the difference. How to use the left hand properly is part of what I teach.

RafterGirl
11-19-2017, 03:23 AM
:agree:



Impressive. To me it looks like a Soprano and not an expensive one. I checked out this guy and it seems that he’s a very able guitar player who also plays Uke. His main work is acting. He keeps a Pink Mahalo too but to my ear it doesn’t sound much so I’ve not bothered adding a video link of it - the black/dark one might be a Mahalo as well but if so then perhaps it’s an unusually good one that’s been well sorted too.

I think that this guy is a good example of a skilled musician who makes the Soprano size Uke work for then. In the past - still do too - I have wondered whether the original (late 1800’s) Soprano Ukes were essentially a (thoughtfully scaled down to be) compact size and cost effective travel instrument that (still) works rather well.

I've gotten hooked on Mr. McLachlan's Australian murder mystery TV series. While watching past seasons of the show on YouTube, I stumbled across the videos of him playing guitar & ukulele. I believe he's been playing guitar since he was a kid, and he had a singing career in Australia back in the 80s. I had just started playing the ukulele when I saw that video and it really spurred me on to continue learning. I like playing my soprano, but prefer the concert scale. I just ordered a Kiwaya/Famous long neck soprano. That's the nice thing about ukuleles.....lots of choices :)

Kyle23
11-19-2017, 03:24 AM
Because they're harder to play for people with bigger hands. Just as tenors may be harder to play than a concert or soprano for someone with smaller hands. People play guitars, so why are tenors harder to play if you have smaller hands? Same thing, it's just how it is.