What is a saxophone? The saxophone is a single-reed instrument that is characterized by its conical shape and finger keys. The first saxophone was patented by Adolph Sax in 1846 and was designed to bridge the gap between brass and woodwind instruments. The saxophone was used in the French army, and later was performed and used in other countries. During World War I, the saxophone became a popular instrument in the United States as a solo instrument, becoming among one of the foremost important solo instruments within the development of popular music genres, such as jazz.
The saxophone is used in a variety of musical settings to perform in classical, jazz, and other popular music genres. It has also been used in orchestras, wind ensembles, military bands, and chamber music. This guide provides information about the saxophone family, instrumental characteristics, parts, and types.
Saxophone Family. The saxophone family consisted of fourteen different saxophones that are pitched in different keys. The following is a list of defining characteristics of the four most widely used saxophones today: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.
Soprano Saxophone – This is a small saxophone pitched in the key of B-flat, and has a straight body, similar to the clarinet.
Alto Saxophone – This is the most commonly performed saxophone that is pitched in the key of E-flat and sounds one octave lower than the sopranino saxophone.
Tenor Saxophone – Just like the alto saxophone, the tenor sax is commonly used. This saxophone is pitched in the key of B-flat and sounds one octave below the soprano saxophone.
Baritone Saxophone – This saxophone is pitched in the key of E-flat, and the notes sound an octave lower than the alto saxophone.
Saxophone Parts. There are four main parts of the saxophone that include the neck, the body, the U-shaped bow, and the bell. There are over 600 parts to the saxophone that also consist of 25 tone holes that are covered with pads. The octave key allows the instrument to sound an octave higher when pressed. When assembled together, most performers use a neck-strap to carry the instrument while performing.
The mouthpiece is similar to the clarinet, as it requires a ligature to hold the reed to the mouthpiece to produce a sound. Since the saxophone is widely employed in both classical and jazz genres, players also have to choose a mouthpiece that permits them to achieve their desired sound. Jazz saxophone mouthpieces tend to have a large chamber that provides more flexibility and freedom for the player during their performance. Classical saxophonists that perform with other instruments within the orchestra have to choose a mouthpiece that encompasses a more gradual taper that offers the player more control over dynamics and pitch to blend with other instruments.
Saxophone Brands. The most popular saxophone brands include Selmer, Yamaha, Buffet, and Yanagisawa if you are looking to purchase a saxophone for any level. Saxophones come in different models from beginners to professionals. If you are unsure of which saxophone would be best for you, you can always consult a local professional to guide you in your instrument selection.
The saxophone to date remains a very popular instrument in music of all genres. With this guide, hopefully you now have a better understanding of the various types of saxophones, their parts, and use!