How does the Xaphoon achieve such a surprisingly deep and rich sound?
The Xaphoon uses a saxophone reed, rather than the whistles that are found in recorders and pennywhistles.
What is the instrument’s range?
Two complete octaves, including all sharps and flats.
How long does it take to learn to play?
Although everyone will learn the instrument at their own speed, it is fair to say that the learning curve is longer than that for a recorder, but shorter than for a saxophone. Saxophone players will adapt the quickest, since they already are trained to use reeds and to breathe properly.
What kind of a reed does it take?
The Xaphoon takes a tenor sax reed, available at any music store. It comes with a #2 1/2 reed, which is a general-strength reed. Beginners may wish to try a 1 or 1 1/2 strength reed. The ligature is off-the-shelf as well; it is normally used to hold reeds for the Bb Soprano Saxophone.
How different is the fingering from that of a recorder?
The two are very similar. When playing a C scale the fingering is pretty much the same until you get to the B and Bb, which are different. The concept of an octave hole is gone too; instead the thumb hole in the rear is just another hole to help play a continuous scale. Click Here to see a fingering chart.
Is it harder to play than a recorder? Than a sax?
The Xaphoon and Pocket Sax require more wind pressure than a recorder player is accustomed to. You have to use your lip muscles a little differently, too — essentially the Xaphoon requires same playing skills that a sax player has. Sax players tend to comment on the shape of the mouthpiece, which is quite different from that of a sax and is primarily responsible for it’s well-rounded sound.
Don’t let the fact that it’s different scare you off - all musical instruments have a learning curve, and many before you have happily made the transition, with wonderful results!!
Is there any sheet music available for it?
Any sheet music written for the soprano recorder (the kind that nearly all elementary school children learn on) can also be used for the Xaphoon. The Xaphoon will usually play 2 octaves lower than a recorder, making duets originally written for two recorders sound especially nice when played with one recorder and one Xaphoon. Plus, we have recently added some Xaphoon Sheet Music to the site.
Is it available in keys other than “C”?
The plastic version of the Xaphoon, dubbed the “Pocket Sax”, is currently only available in “C”.
What’s the difference in sound between the Bamboo and Plastic versions?
Believe it or not, they sound nearly identical! This sounded counterintuitive to me until I read a book about flutemaking, where the author proclaimed he made flutes out of glass and galvanized pipe, and they all sounded the same. Apparently materials don’t influence the sound significantly until you get to the lower frequencies, which is why didgeridoo makers are very sensitive to the materials that go into making their instruments.
Having said that, there is still an individual variation between bamboo Xaphoons, given the nature of bamboo. But it still remains impossible to listen to a recording and be able to tell whether a bamboo or plastic instrument was used in its making.
Is the Xaphoon ideal for all ages?
Well, although there have been some exceptional 4th and 5th graders who have learned to play it, it is not an ideal instrument for elementary school students as most childrens’ fingers isn’t large enough to cover all the instrument’s holes.
Are Professional Musicians using the Xaphoon?
Yes!! Already there are three Xaphoon-only CD’s on the market, and musicians who score Hollywood films are quite fond of the Xaphoon, since it can sound vaguely familiar, earthy, and chromatic all at the same time. Paul Simon also featured the instrument prominently in his 2006 U.S. tour. Below is a short list of films in which the Xaphoon was used in the soundtrack:
* The Passion of the Christ
* Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
* The rapture (1991)
Why is the mouthpiece so different? Why didn’t you just use a standard sax mouthpiece?
Well, in the original bamboo instruments the mouthpiece HAD to be round (otherwise there would be a hole in the top of the mouthpiece!) When it came time to design the Pocket Sax, that requirement went away and we started prototyping many different configurations, including placing a sax mouthpiece onto the end of a tube. In short, it sounded awful. Full of distortion and lacking in depth.
It turns out that the round mouthpiece (which is closer to Adolph Sax’ original mouthpiece) is responsible for the instrument’s full-bodied sound. The round mouthpiece also allows a greater range of expressiveness, from mellow to wailing. In other words, it’s what makes a Xaphoon sound like a Xaphoon. The mouthpiece on the Pocket Sax isn’t quite as round as the bamboo instruments, yet we have managed to retain the essential characteristics to get that absolutely unique and large sound.