Shiny Sax

What Are The Different Types Of Saxophones in the Saxophone Family?

Have you ever asked:

What are the different types of saxophones?

If you have well this post is definitely for you! If you haven’t you are about to find out anyways.

The saxophone, a member of the woodwind family, is a newer invention that has become a very popular instrument in a variety of genres. You will most likely enjoy the sounds of the saxophone in jazz music, concert bands, marching bands, and even popular music.

In todays post we will take a look at the different types of saxophones that make up the saxophone family, discussing how each one is different. But first we will take a quick look at how the saxophone came into existence and why it is classified as a woodwind instrument.

Who Invented the Saxophone?

Adolph_sax

The saxophone was invented by Adolf Sax, a Belgian instrument maker, in 1840. Sax wanted to invent an instrument that would have the projection of a brass instrument with the agility of a woodwind instrument. Further more, he wanted the new invention to overblow at the octave when the octave key was pressed. Unlike the clarinet, which is also overblown when the octave key is pressed but it raises the pitch by a twelfth. Sax knew that an instrument that raised the pitch by an octave when overblown would have the same fingerings for the notes in both registers.

Sax obtained a 15-year patent for the saxophone on June 28th, 1846. After his patent expired many saxophonists and instrument makers continued to improve its design and keywork bringing the saxophone to what it is today.

Why Is The Saxophone A Woodwind Instrument?

It is very common for people to want to place the saxophone in the brass family. Clearly it does have some characteristics of a brass instrument. As noted above Sax wanted the saxophone to have the sound of a brass instrument. In order achieve the instrument would need to be made of metal, or more specifically brass.

The main reason the saxophone is not a brass instrument is the need for a reed. The saxophone requires the use of a mouthpiece that is very similar to the clarinet. The sound is produced by the vibration of the reed. Below is a picture of mouthpiece’s and reeds for a tenor saxophone.

Mouthpiece_tenor_saxophoneMouthpiece tenor saxophone“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

So, What Are The Different Types Of Saxophones

When Adolf Sax set out to create the saxophone he didn’t want to create just one instrument. He wanted to create a family or series of instruments. His goal was to fill a void or to create a link between the woodwind family and brass family.

When Sax patented the saxophone he patented two groups of 7 instruments. Each group had a different purpose and transposition. One series, pitched to B flat and E flat, was intended for military bands. The other series, pitched to C and F, were made for more orchestral purposes.  Today the series pitched to B flat and E flat are the most commonly used saxophones. This series includes the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and sub-contrabass.

The most common types of saxophones from the B flat and E flat series that are used today in a variety of settings including jazz bands and concert bands are:

  • Soprano Saxophone
  • Alto Saxophone
  • Tenor Saxophone
  • Baritone Saxophone

 

Soprano Saxophone

Soprano SaxophoneSoprano saxophone” by No machine-readable author provided. Sylenius assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The soprano saxophone is a higher pitched saxophone. The most common soprano saxophone is a transposing B flat soprano but there is also a soprano pitched in C, which is much less common.

A soprano Saxophone can be straight, which is the most common, or have a slightly curved or fully curved body. The curved soprano looks like a small alto saxophone. There have been many debates regarding the design of the soprano saxophone regarding a curved neck (The neck is the piece that the mouthpiece connects to). Some believe that a curved neck will affect the sound, creating a warmer and less nasal sound.

In Classical music the soprano saxophone is often a solo or chamber instrument. It is most commonly found in saxophone chamber groups such as the saxophone quartet where it plays a leading role. It has been included in several orchestral compositions such as Richard Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.

Below is a short video that discusses the soprano saxophone and gives a close up of the keys and design. Please remember that although the soprano in the video is straight, there are also slightly curved and fully curved sopranos as well.

 

Here is a video demonstrating the sound of the soprano saxophone as a solo instrument.

Alto Saxophone

Alto SaxophoneSaxophone alto“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The alto saxophone is the next size up to the soprano saxophone. It is a transposing instrument tuned to the pitch E flat. The body of the alto saxophone is fully curved.

It is one of the most common saxophones and can be found in a variety of musical settings. These settings include the orchestra, concert bands, military bands and jazz ensembles. Their is also a considerable number of solo compositions written for the alto saxophone. It appears quite frequently in popular music.

Here is a video of a Alto Sax solo

 Tenor Saxophone

Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone is the next size in the saxophone family and is also a very common instrument. It is a B fat transposing instrument and sounds one octave lower then the soprano saxophone. Its shape is very similar to the alto saxophone but is slightly bigger.

The tenor saxophone is found in concert bands, military bands, chamber groups, and jazz ensembles. There is also a lot of solo repertoire written for the tenor saxophone. It is sometimes included in the symphonic orchestra.

A performance of Get Lucky by Daft Punk on the Saxophone

Baritone Saxophone

Baritone Saxophone
Baritone saxophone” by SyleniusOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The baritone saxophone is the lowest pitched common saxophone of the saxophone family. There are 3 saxophones that are pitched lower but they are not commonly used. Like the alto saxophone, the baritone saxophone is an E flat transposing instrument.  It is commonly found in concert bands, military bands, chamber groups and jazz ensembles. Like the other saxophones there is also solo repertoire written for the baritone saxophone. The baritone saxophone also has a curved body with an extra curve in the neck to make the mouthpiece easier to reach.

A Video of a solo performed on the Baritone Saxophone

What Are The Different Types of Saxophones? Answered

There you have it. The 4 most commonly used saxophones. As you can see each instrument is very similar but also have their own differences. Many saxophone players are able to play all of them as the fingering of each instrument is very similar. Those who play the saxophone often also pick up the flute, whose fingering is closely related to the saxophone.

While the saxophone is a fairly new invention it has become a very popular instrument and is just as recognized as the trumpet or violin. If you have any questions regarding the saxophone or would like to add to this conversation please leave a comment below.

I would like to leave you today with a video of a saxophone quartet playing Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G minor. Notice how each instrument is introduced from highest to lowest. The soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones are featured in this quartet. It is very pretty. I hope you enjoy.

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4 thoughts on “What Are The Different Types Of Saxophones in the Saxophone Family?

  1. Wow, Bach on saxophone. He could never have imagined it.

    I’ve listened to many string quartets but this sax quartet if a first for me.

    When I was younger I played in various rock bands., mostly as a guitarist and singer, but once I bought a C Melody sax because it was easier to play in the keys that rock bands play in.

    I had a friend who played a Selmer tenor sax, and one of my favorite saxophone tunes that he played was Harlem Nocturne.

    Great web site. Well done!

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your story. I really liked the performance of this particular piece so I had to share. Bach on the sax is certainly a rarity.

  2. Another good piece. Just one question, how often do you need to change the reeds, are they easy to get hold of and how much do they usually cost. OK three questions.
    Thanks.

    1. Hey those are great questions!

      how often you change the reed will depend on several things. I will list some:
      1. Depends on how often you play.
      2. Depends on the brand. Some brands are better then others
      3. Depends on how they are treated. Beginners (Young) could go through several as they have a tendency to break them.

      Reeds are not overly expensive. In the school system here in Canada students can buy them from the school band teacher for around $2.00 each. Of course the price of the reed will depend on the instrument. Baritone Sax reeds are much bigger then a alto sax reed thus cost a little more. Most woodwind players will purchase a box and have several reeds on the go at once. The quality of the reeds in a box may vary as they are made of cane and in certain circumstances are mass produced. For obvious reasons they cannot be tested. I have friends that find the best and save it for performance.

      Reeds are also very easy to get. Most music stores will sell reeds of all types. You can also get a good deal online if you are able to wait for them. Please stayed tuned as I will be dining a post on reeds in the near future.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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