This particular instrument is a wind synth. This means it synthesizes playing a wind instrument in the same way as a digital piano synthesizes playing a real piano.
Roland Aerophone AE-10
There are other wind synths out there, but this one is different. Today, I’m going to discuss if the the Roland Aerophone AE-10 can be a valuable practice tool and whether or not it can improve my saxophone playing when I cannot play the saxophone.
I would also like to point out that I have zero affiliation with Roland. After I made my video about the Roland Aerophone mini which is like this thing’s little brother I sent them a couple messages asking if they’d seen my video which has been viewed by 350K other people so far and if they’d like to send me the AE-10.
Roland never replied to any of my messages. They also didn’t even give me so much as a like on any of my social media posts about their instrument. Maybe their internet was down or something.
So I just bought my own off of Amazon.
Other Wind Synths
Now I own the Akai Ewi and also own the now discontinued Yamaha WX wind controller. I’ve been dabbling in these things like all good saxophone geeks for many years.
While I like the Akai Ewi and have even used it on gigs in the past, I’ve always considered it it’s own instrument. It’s something that had to be worked on on its own. It’s not as a tool for helping me practice the saxophone.
I think the Akai Ewi can be a very expressive instrument. If you’ve heard the recordings of Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, and Seamus Blake (among others), you know what I mean.
For me, I never wanted the wind synth as an additional instrument to perform on though. I want to dedicate the limited practice time I have to just the saxophone.
A New Practice Tool
I’ve always been hopeful for a digital wind synth that can be used as a practice tool to help my saxophone playing.
So instead of watching another hour of Netflix late at night, I can instead get some sort of work done. This can help me work towards the things I’m trying to accomplish on the saxophone without bothering anyone.
I’m not going to unbox this for you or talk about all the features, you can find that info elsewhere. I’ve only been playing this for about a month. I’m sure there’s plenty more functionality that I don’t even know about yet.
Instead, I want to point out the ways I think the Roland AE-10 can and cannot help you get better on the sax.
I know lots of people are opting to purchase these wind synths as an alternative to a real instrument.
First off, I’d like to say to anyone wondering if this instrument can replace a real saxophone, the answer is no. If you want to play the saxophone, get a saxophone. This is not like a digital piano which can actually be very good a replicating the real thing.
This will never come remotely close to the sound and feel of playing a real saxophone or any wind instrument. Yes, it can sound great and be a lot of fun to play. But is definitely not a replacement for the real thing.
How the Aerophone Can Help Your Sax Playing
If you are already playing the saxophone though, you may find the Roland AE-10 to be a fantastic tool like I do.
The number one benefit, of course, is the ability to play this thing and have the sound come out through headphones. This way you can practice any time, any where, as loud as you want, and not bother anybody.
It’s got an output jack that can be connected to headphones or an amplifier or mixer. It also has an input jack so you can plug in your smartphone, tablet or computer and play along with backing tracks which you’ll also hear through your headphones.
It’s battery powered, but also has a power adapter plug.
It even has an onboard speaker so you can just pick it up and play out loud completely wireless.
What makes this instrument different from other wind synths is that the keys follow the layout of a saxophone exactly. You’ve got the palm keys, side keys and pinky keys all the same as a real sax. You even have the front F key.
The keys are also mechanical like a real saxophone which means they move and offer resistance when you press them. The key touches are even shaped like a real saxophone so they feel quite similar.
This is the real game changer for me. Having the exact same key layout means what ever technique work I’m doing on the Aerophone can transfer directly to the saxophone. The movements will be essentially the same.
You can even program and customize your own personal altissimo fingerings matching what you play on the saxophone.
Do the Skills Transfer?
So can my practice on the Roland Aerophone transfer to the saxophone? I’ve tested this out by taking a pattern brand new to me, then learning it only on the aerophone over the full range of the instrument. When I then picked up the saxophone, the pattern was there ready to be played accurately already under my fingers.
Of course, it’s not the exact same feel as my saxophone. But it’s close enough for the time put in to have real value at least when it comes to technique.
I find the Aerophone to be even less forgiving when it comes to finger glitches. It really forces you to play with a certain level of accuracy.
It will take some getting used to as the keys are all very uniform in the amount of resistance and distance they travel when actioned.
Overall I think they did a pretty good job with this part of the design. For example, when I press a key down it moves a bit and then there is a firm cushion at the bottom which allows a bit of extra squeeze. I suppose this helps the keys feel a bit more natural but this is one area that could be developed further to improve the playing experience. It would be great to be able to adjust the tension of the individual keys. I’d like to have a little less resistance overall.
So practicing scales and patterns on the Aerophone is going to be time well spent if you cannot put that time in on your real saxophone. Of course, you’re going to want to be using a metronome for this just as you would with the saxophone.
One of the things I talk about a lot in my online courses and lessons is learning to play melodies by ear. This of course takes practice. It’s another area where the Aerophone can help you improve.
If I’m learning a new tune, I can play through the melody on this thing and it’s going to transfer over to the saxophone. Of course the same thing goes for learning and practicing chord changes which is something else I use this for.
I will often open up the iReal app or a backing track and play through tunes I already know to keep them fresh and have some fun.
I find that when playing over chord changes on the Roland Aerophone AE-10 I don’t play the same ideas as I would on the saxophone. It helps me be a bit more creative for some reason.
How The Aerophone Cannot Help Your Sax Playing
Now for the bad news…
Probably the most important aspect of your saxophone playing is your sound. The Aerophone is not going to help you there at all. So if you want to develop as a saxophone player, you really need to spend time on the real thing everyday. This will help you develop your embouchure strength and flexibility as well as your tone and intonation.
The Mouthpiece + Reed
The mouthpiece on the aerophone is making an attempt at imitating how a saxophone mouthpiece and reed function. It has this plastic reed that is pressure sensitive so you can set it up to play vibrato and bend notes as you might do on a real saxophone. I think they’ve done a good job with this aspect, but it still needs some development, and I need some more time with the instrument to fully appreciate its potential.
There are a lot of settings to fiddle with and customize. Even I’m still looking for the best way to set it up for me.
When it comes to articulation, surprising, I find it reacts quite well to tonguing. Having the plastic reed there helps make that feel pretty natural. But it’s not necessarily going to help you improve your articulation on the saxophone.
You can also set the resistance level for the air. Meaning, I can increase the amount of air necessary to get a sound and increase the volume of that sound. I imagine that this can have a positive impact on breath control for saxophone players. But, once again, you definitely need a real saxophone and real mouthpiece to learn how to control the air stream effectively.
When it comes to the sounds included with the Aerophone, I find some of them to be quite good. But I still cannot get on with the synth saxophones. That’s why I prefer to play the muted trumpet, one of the organ sounds, the harmelodica, or a straight up synth like a saw wave.
Suggested Improvements for the Roland Aerophone AE-10
In case the folks at Roland ever see this video, here are a few of my suggestions to improve this instrument.
First, the B flat key is a little too far from the B key, and the front F key should be closer as well. I’d like for them to cut the difference in half.
There is not enough drainage of the condensed water vapor in the mouthpiece. It has a tiny hole that is supposed to let it out, but I find an excess of moisture in the mouthpiece and it drips out while I’m playing.
Earlier I mentioned it would be nice to be able to adjust the tension on the keys somehow and another improvement would be having rollers on the pinky keys as we do on the saxophone.
So to answer the original question… Can the Roland Aerophone AE-10 help me to improve my saxophone playing when I cannot practice the saxophone? Yes, but that is assuming you are still practicing the saxophone daily. Otherwise, your sound and embouchure control would suffer too much and offset any technical gains you might make.
As I said earlier, this cannot replace a saxophone. But if for some reason you cannot play a real saxophone this is a fun instrument on its own. I can recommend getting it.
The Roland Aerophone AE-10 Sells for $850. Although it’s pretty expensive, I think it’s a pretty fair value. Considering how well it works and the infinite playing possibilities, it’s a great product.
Have one of these? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Interested in more reviews on wind synths? Check out “Sax In Your Pocket? Roland Aerophone Mini AE-01 Review.”