Saxophone: Wikis


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Saxophone alto.jpg
An alto saxophone in E
Woodwind instrument
Other names Saxiphonia


Hornbostel-Sachs classification 422.212-71
(Single-reeded aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s) Adolphe Sax
Developed 1841
Playing range

Written Range:

Sax range.svg
Related instruments

Military band family:

Orchestral family:

List of saxophonists

The saxophone (also referred to simply as sax) is a conical-bored transposing musical instrument considered a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and are played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax in 1841. He wanted to create an instrument that would both be the loudest of the woodwinds and the most versatile of the brass, and would fill the then vacant middle ground between the two sections. He patented the sax in 1846 in two groups of seven instruments each. Each series consisted of instruments of various sizes in alternating transposition. The series pitched in B and E, designed for military bands, has proved extremely popular and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. A few saxophones remain from the less popular orchestral series pitched in C and F.

While proving very popular in its intended niche of military band music, the saxophone is most commonly associated with popular music, big band music, blues, early rock and roll, ska and particularly jazz. There is also a substantial repertoire of concert music in the classical idiom for the members of the saxophone family. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.



Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone

The saxophone was developed in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian-born instrument-maker, flautist and clarinetist working in Paris. While still working at his father's instrument shop in Brussels, Sax began developing an instrument which had the projection of a brass instrument with the agility of a woodwind. Another priority was to invent an instrument which would overblow at the octave, unlike the clarinet, which rises in pitch by a twelfth when overblown; an instrument which overblew at the octave would have identical fingering for both registers.

Prior to his work on the saxophone, Sax made several improvements to the bass clarinet by improving its keywork and acoustics and extending its lower range. Sax was also a maker of the then-popular ophicleide, a large conical brass instrument in the bass register with keys similar to a woodwind instrument. His experience with these two instruments allowed him to develop the skills and technologies needed to make the first saxophones. Adolphe Sax created an instrument with a single reed mouthpiece like a clarinet, conical brass body like an ophicleide, and the acoustic properties of both the french horn and the clarinet.

Having constructed saxophones in several sizes in the early 1840s, Sax applied for, and received, a 15-year patent for the instrument on June 28, 1846.[1] The patent encompassed 14 versions of the fundamental design, split into two categories of seven instruments each and ranging from sopranino to contrabass. In the group Sax envisaged for orchestral work, the instruments transposed at either F or C, while the "military band" group included instruments alternating between E and B. The orchestral soprano saxophone was the only instrument to sound at concert pitch. All the instruments were given an initial written range from the B below the treble staff to the F three ledger lines above it, giving each saxophone a range of two and a half octaves.

Sax's patent expired in 1866;[2] thereafter numerous saxophonists and instrument manufacturers implemented their own improvements to the design and keywork. The first substantial modification was by a French manufacturer who extended the bell slightly and added an extra key to extend the range downwards by one semitone to B. It is suspected that Sax himself may have attempted this modification. This extension was adopted into almost all modern designs.

Sax's original keywork was very simplistic and made playing some legato passages and wide intervals extremely difficult to finger, so numerous developers added extra keys and alternate fingerings to make chromatic playing less difficult. While the early saxophone had two separate octave vents to assist in the playing of the upper registers just as modern instruments do, players of Sax's original design had to operate these via two separate octave keys operated by the left thumb. A substantial advancement in saxophone keywork was the development of a method by which both tone holes are operated by a single octave key by the left thumb which is now universal on all modern saxophones. One of the most radical, however temporary, revisions of saxophone keywork was made in the 1950s by M. Houvenaghel of Paris, who completely redeveloped the mechanics of the system to allow a number of notes (C, B, A, G, F and E) to be flattened by a semitone simply by lowering the right middle finger. This enables a chromatic scale to be played over two octaves simply by playing the diatonic scale combined with alternately raising and lowering this one digit.[3] However, this keywork never gained much popularity, and is no longer in use.


From left to right, an E alto saxophone, a curved B soprano saxophone, and a B tenor saxophone

The saxophone consists of an approximately conical tube of thin metal, most commonly brass and sometimes plated with silver, gold, and nickel, flared at the tip to form a bell. At intervals along the tube are between 20 and 23 tone holes of varying size, including two very small 'speaker' holes to assist the playing of the upper register. These holes are covered by keys (also known as pad cups), containing soft leather pads, which are closed to produce an airtight seal; at rest some of the holes stand open and others are closed. The keys are controlled by buttons pressed by the fingers, while the right thumb sits under a thumb rest to help keep the saxophone balanced. The fingering for the saxophone is a combination of that of the oboe with the Boehm system, and is very similar to the flute or the upper register of the clarinet. Instruments that play to low A have a left thumb key for that note.

The simplest design of saxophone is a straight conical tube, and the sopranino and soprano saxophones are usually of this straight design. However, as the lower-pitched instruments would be unacceptably long if straight, for ergonomic reasons the larger instruments usually incorporate a U-bend at or slightly above the third-lowest tone hole. As this would cause the bell of the instrument to point almost directly upwards, the end of the instrument is either beveled or tilted slightly forwards. This U-shape has become an iconic feature of the saxophone family, to the extent that soprano and even sopranino saxes are sometimes made in the curved style even though this is not strictly necessary. By contrast, tenors and even baritones have occasionally been made in the straight style.[4][5] Most commonly, however, the alto and tenor saxophones incorporate a curved 'crook' above the highest tone hole but below the top speaker hole, tilting the mouthpiece through 90 degrees; the baritone, bass and contrabass extend the length of the bore mainly by double-folding this section.


Conn 6M "Lady Face"[6] brass alto saxophone (dated 1935) in its original case
1950s Grafton alto made of plastic
The lower portion of a Paul Mauriat alto saxophone, showing the mother of pearl key touches and engraved brass pad cups

Most saxophones, both past and present, are made from brass. Despite this, they are categorized as woodwind instruments rather than brass because the sound waves are produced by an oscillating reed, not the player's lips against a mouthpiece as in a brass instrument, and because different pitches are produced by opening and closing keys. Brass is used to make the body of the instrument; the pad cups; the rods that connect the pads to the keys; the keys themselves and the posts that hold the rods and keys in place. The screw pins that connect the rods to the posts, and the needle springs and leaf springs that cause the keys to return to their rest position after being released, are generally made of blued or stainless steel. Since 1920, most saxophones have 'key touches' (smooth decorative pieces placed where the fingers touch the instrument) made from either plastic or mother of pearl.

Other materials have been tried with varying degrees of success, such as the 1950s Grafton plastic alto saxophone. A few companies, such as Yanagisawa[10] and Bauhaus Walstein, have made some saxophone models from phosphor bronze because of its slightly different tonal qualities[11]. For example, although their designs are identical apart from the metal used, the bronze Yanagisawa A992[12] saxophones are said to sound "darker" than the brass versions. Yanagisawa and other manufacturers, starting with the King Super 20 around 1950, have made saxophone necks, bells, or entire instruments from sterling silver.[13] Keilwerth and Paul Mauriat have made saxes with a nickel silver body like that of a flute[14][15]. The effect of material on sound is controversial among sax players, and little solid research has been published.

After completing the instrument, manufacturers usually apply a thin coating of clear or colored acrylic lacquer, or silver plate, over the bare brass. The lacquer or plating serves to protect the brass from oxidation, and maintains its shiny appearance. Several different types and colors of surface finish have been used over the years.[16] It is also possible to plate the instrument with nickel or gold, and a number of gold-plated saxophones have been produced.[16] Plating saxophones with gold is an expensive process because gold will not stick directly to brass. As a result, the brass is first coated with silver (which will stick to it) and then gold-plated on top.

Some argue that the type of lacquer or plating, or absence thereof, may enhance an instrument's tone quality. The possible effects of different finishes on tone is a hotly debated topic, not least because other variables may affect an instrument's tone colors e.g. mouthpiece design and physical characteristics of the player. In any case, what constitutes a pleasing tone is a matter of personal preference and tastes vary.[17][18]

Mouthpiece and reed

Two mouthpieces for tenor saxophone; the one on the left is rubber; the one on the right is Metal.

The saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. Most saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo donax cane, but since the 20th century some have also been made of fiberglass. Fiberglass reeds are more durable, but are generally considered to produce an inferior tone. The saxophone mouthpiece is larger than that of the clarinet, has a wider inner chamber, and lacks the cork-covered tenon of a clarinet mouthpiece because the saxophone neck inserts into the mouthpiece whereas the clarinet mouthpiece piece is inserted into the barrel. The most important difference between a saxophone embouchure and a clarinet embouchure is that the saxophone mouthpiece should enter the mouth at a much lower or flatter angle than the clarinet. The embouchure for clarinet must also be more firm than that for saxophone. The muscles in the lip and jaw will develop naturally the more one plays, and the "long tones" exercise helps a great deal with this aspect of playing.[19] Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including vulcanized rubber (sometimes called rod rubber or ebonite), plastic, and metals such as bronze or surgical steel. Less common materials that have been used include wood, glass, crystal, porcelain, and even bone. According to Larry Teal, the mouthpiece material has little, if any, effect on the sound, and the physical dimensions give a mouthpiece its tone colour,[20] however this view is controversial. Mouthpieces with a concave ("excavated") chamber are more true to Adolphe Sax's original design; these provide a softer or less piercing tone, and are favored by some saxophonists, including students of Sigurd Raschèr, for classical playing. Conversely, mouthpieces with a smaller chamber or lower clearance above the reed, called high baffle, produce a brighter sound with maximum projection and are favored by many jazz and funk players. Most skilled saxophonists settle on a mouthpiece somewhere between these extremes regardless of their primary idiom and most that play both jazz and classical music have different equipment for each.

Like clarinets, saxophones use a single reed. Saxophone reeds are proportioned slightly differently to clarinet reeds, being wider for the same length. Each size of saxophone (alto, tenor, etc.) uses a different size of reed. Reeds are commercially available in a vast array of brands, styles, and strengths. Each player experiments with reeds of different strength (hardnesses) and material to find which strength and cut suits his or her mouthpiece, embouchure, tendencies, and playing style.


The saxophone was originally patented as a group of 14 instruments in two families. The orchestral family consisted of instruments in the keys of C and F, and the military band family in E and B. Each family consisted of sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass and contrabass instruments, alternating in transposition. While all seven members of the military band family are still relatively common, the orchestral group was less successful; Adolphe Sax's personal rivalry with influential German composer Wilhelm Wieprecht may have been partially responsible for the complete failure of the saxophone in orchestral music. Only the orchestral tenor and soprano saxes, both pitched in C and therefore able to easily play music written for strings or voice, attained any popularity; the tenor (or C melody saxophone) was popularized by players such as Rudy Wiedoeft and Frankie Trumbauer, but did not secure a permanent place in either jazz or classical music. In the early 20th century, the orchestral soprano was marketed to those who wished to perform oboe parts in military band, vaudeville arrangements, or church hymnals. None have been produced since the late 1920s. The orchestral alto, produced by the American firm Conn during the period 1928–1929, is now extremely rare; most remaining examples are in the possession of serious instrument collectors. Adolphe Sax made a few F baritone prototypes, but no serious F baritones were manufactured. There are no known remaining specimens of the bass saxophone in C, the first saxophone constructed and exhibited by Sax in the early 1840s, or the sopranino in F, despite Ravel's scoring for the instrument in Bolero. The only known F alto made by Sax himself known to exist is owned by the recently deceased Canadian classical saxophonist Paul Brodie.

The saxophone first gained popularity in the niche it was designed for: the military band. Although the instrument was studiously ignored in Germany, French and Belgian military bands took full advantage of the instrument that Sax had designed specifically for them. Most French and Belgian military bands incorporate at least a quartet of saxophones comprising at least the E baritone, B tenor, E alto and B soprano. These four instruments have proved the most popular of all of Sax's creations, with the E contrabass and B bass usually considered impractically large and the E sopranino insufficiently powerful. British military bands tend to include at minimum two saxophonists on the alto and tenor.

The saxophone has more recently found a niche in both concert band and big band music, which often calls for the E baritone, B tenor and E alto. Also, the B soprano is also occasionally utilised, in which case it will normally be played by the first alto saxophonist. The bass saxophone in B is called for in band music (especially music by Percy Grainger) and big band orchestrations, especially music performed by the Stan Kenton "Mellophonium Orchestra". In the 1920s the bass saxophone was used often in classic jazz recordings, since at that time it was easier to record than a tuba or double bass. It is also used in the original score (and movie) of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. The saxophone has been more recently introduced into the symphony orchestra, where it has found increased popularity. In one or other size, the instrument has been found a useful accompaniment to genres as wide-ranging as opera, choral music and chamber pieces. Many musical scores include parts for the saxophone, usually either doubling another woodwind or brass instrument. In this way the sax serves as a middle point between woodwinds and brass, helping to blend the two sections


A saxophonist in a military band, carrying a baritone saxophone

By far the most well known, and iconic, implementation of the saxophone is in modern jazz music, usually as a solo instrument with a rhythm section but sometimes in the form of a saxophone quartet or big band.

The saxophone quartet is usually made up of one B soprano, one E alto, one B tenor and one E baritone (SATB). On occasion, the soprano is replaced with a second alto sax (AATB); a few professional saxophone quartets have featured non-standard instrumentation, such as James Fei's Alto Quartet[21] (four altos) and Hamiet Bluiett's Bluiett Baritone Nation (four baritones).

There is a repertoire of classical compositions and arrangements for the SATB instrumentation dating back to the nineteenth century, particularly by French composers who knew Adolphe Sax. The Raschèr,[22] Amherst,[23] Aurelia,[24] Amstel and Rova Saxophone Quartets are among the best known groups. Historically, the quartets led by Marcel Mule and Daniel Deffayet, saxophone professors at the Conservatoire de Paris, were started in 1928 and 1953, respectively, and were highly regarded. The Mule quartet is often considered to be the prototype for all future quartets due the level of virtuosity demonstrated by its members and its central role in the development of the quartet repertoire. However organised quartets did exist before Mule's ensemble, the prime example being the quartet headed by Eduard Lefebre (1834–1911), former soloist with the Sousa band, in the United States c1904-1911. Other ensembles most likely existed at this time as part of the saxophone sections of the many touring "business" bands that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. More recently, the World Saxophone Quartet has become known as the preeminent jazz saxophone quartet. The Rova Saxophone Quartet, based in San Francisco, is noted for its work in the fields of contemporary classical music and improvised music.

Bobby Rogers, a.k.a. "Music Daddy", the studio saxophonist and mentor to Kenny G.
Bobby Rogers, studio saxophonist for Metallica Studios, Ltd. and mentor to Kenny G.

There are a few larger all-saxophone ensembles, the most prominent including the 9-member SaxAssault,[25] and Urban Sax, which includes as many as 52 saxophonists. The 6-member Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra owns one of the few E contrabass saxophones, and plays a variety of ensemble pieces including "Casbah Shuffle", a duet for sopranino and contrabass.[26] Very large groups, featuring over 100 saxophones, are sometimes organized as a novelty at saxophone conventions.[27]

Studio saxophone players and ensembles have also been a major influence on the history of music. Although they aren't usually full members of a band, they can be a vital part in the overall sound of a music set.In recent years, there has also been an increasing number of saxophone players in studio bands, in the vein of 70's bands such as Pink Floyd and Yes.[citation needed]

Related instruments

Various unusual saxophone variants; clockwise from top left: a straight E baritone, a straight B tenor, straight C soprano, straight B soprano, and a B soprillo

Miscellaneous saxophones

The "contralto" saxophone, similar in size to the orchestral soprano, was developed in the late 20th century by California instrument maker Jim Schmidt.[28] This instrument has a larger bore and a new fingering system, and does not resemble the C melody instrument except for its key and register. Another new arrival to the novelty sax scene is the soprillo sax, a piccolo-sized straight instrument which has the upper speaker hole built into the mouthpiece. The instrument, which extends Sax's original family as it is pitched a full octave higher than the B soprano sax, is manufactured by Benedikt Eppelsheim, of Munich, Germany. There is a rare prototype slide tenor saxophone, but few were ever made. One known company that produced a slide soprano saxophone was Reiffel & Husted, Chicago, ca. 1922 (catalog NMM 5385).[29][30][31]

Similar instruments

A number of saxophone-related instruments have appeared since Sax's original work, most enjoying no significant success. These include the saxello, essentially a straight B soprano, but with a slightly curved neck and tipped bell; the straight alto; and the straight B tenor.[32] Since a straight-bore tenor is approximately five feet long, the cumbersome size of such a design makes it almost impossible to either play or transport. "King" Saxellos, made by the H. N. White Company in the 1920s, now command prices up to US$4,000. A number of companies, including Rampone & Cazzani and L.A. Sax, are marketing straight-bore, tipped-bell soprano saxophones as saxellos (or "saxello sopranos").

Two of these variants were championed by jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who called his straight Buescher alto a stritch and his modified saxello a manzello''; the latter featured a larger-than-usual bell and modified key work. Among some saxophonists, Kirk's terms have taken a life of their own in that it is believed that these were "special" or "new" saxophones that might still be available. Though rare, the Buescher straight alto was a production item instrument while the manzello was indeed a saxello with a custom made bell.

Another unusual variant of the saxophone was the Conn-O-Sax, a straight-bore instrument in F (one step above the E♭ alto) with a slightly curved neck and spherical bell. The instrument, which combined a saxophone bore and keys with a bell shaped similar to that of a heckelphone, was intended to imitate the timbre of the English horn and was produced only in 1929 and 1930. The instrument had a key range from low A to high G. Fewer than 100 Conn-O-Saxes are in existence, and they are eagerly sought by collectors.

The tubax, developed in 1999 by the German instrument maker Benedikt Eppelsheim,[33] plays the same range, and with the same fingering, as the E contrabass saxophone; its bore, however, is narrower than that of a contrabass saxophone, making for a more compact instrument with a "reedier" tone (akin to the double-reed contrabass sarrusophone). It can be played with the smaller (and more commonly available) baritone saxophone mouthpiece and reeds. Eppelsheim has also produced subcontrabass tubaxes in C and B, the latter being the lowest saxophone ever made. Among the most recent developments is the aulochrome, a double soprano saxophone invented by Belgian instrument maker François Louis in 2001.

Bamboo "saxophones"

Although not true saxophones, inexpensive keyless folk versions of the saxophone made of bamboo were developed in the 20th century by instrument makers in Hawaii, Jamaica, Thailand, Indonesia, and Argentina. The Hawaiian instrument, called a xaphoon, was invented during the 1970s and is also marketed as a "bamboo sax," although its cylindrical bore more closely resembles that of a clarinet, and its lack of any keywork makes it more akin to a recorder. Jamaica's best known exponent of a similar type of homemade bamboo "saxophone" was the mento musician and instrument maker 'Sugar Belly' (William Walker).[34] In the Minahasa region of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, there exist entire bands made up of bamboo "saxophones"[35] and "brass" instruments of various sizes. These instruments are clever imitations of European instruments, made using local materials. Very similar instruments are produced in Thailand.[36][37] In Argentina, Ángel Sampedro del Río and Mariana García have produced bamboo saxophones of various sizes since 1985, the larger of which have bamboo keys to allow for the playing of lower notes.[38]audio


Soprano Extension in C.svg
Alto Extension in C.svg
Tenor Extension in C.svg
Baritone Extension in C.svg
The extension in C major of the military soprano, alto, tenor and baritone when playing a B major scale.

Music for most saxophones is usually notated using treble clef. The standard written range extends from a B below the staff to an F or F three ledger lines above the staff. There are a few models of soprano saxophone that have a key for high G, and most modern models of baritone saxophone have an extended bore and key to produce low A; it is also possible to play a low A on any saxophone by blocking the end of the bell, usually with the foot or inside of the left thigh. Notes above F are considered part of the altissimo register of any sax, and can be produced using advanced embouchure techniques and fingering combinations. Sax himself had mastered these techniques; he demonstrated the instrument as having a range of just beyond three octaves up to a (written) high B4. Modern saxophone players have extended this range to over 4 octaves on tenor and alto respectively.

Because all saxophones use the same key arrangement and fingering to produce a given notated pitch, it is not difficult for a competent player to switch among the various sizes when the music has been suitably transposed. Since the baritone and alto are pitched in E, players can read concert pitch music notated in the bass clef by reading it as if it were treble clef and adding three sharps to the key signature. This process, referred to as clef substitution, makes it possible for the baritone to play from parts written for bassoon, tuba, trombone or string bass. This can be useful if a band or orchestra lacks one of those instruments.

See also


  1. ^ "Adolphe Sax". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  2. ^ "The history of the saxophone". Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  3. ^ MacGillivray, James (May 1959). "Recent Advances in Woodwind Fingering Systems". The Galpin Society Journal (The Galpin Society Journal) 12: 68. doi:10.2307/841949. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  4. ^ "Jay C. Easton: Saxophone Family Gallery". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  5. ^ "Contrabass-L, Vol. 1, No. 76". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "A992". Yanagisawa website. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "T9937". Yanagisawa website. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  14. ^ "tenor_sxr90r_shadow". keilwerth website. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  15. ^ "PMST-60NS". Paul Mauriat website. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  16. ^ a b "The Horn". 
  17. ^ "Jazz & Blues Saxophone FAQs". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  18. ^ "How Brass Instruments are Built". Acoustical Society of America. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  19. ^ "Saxophone Embouchure and Saxophone Muscles - Learning Saxophone". Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  20. ^ Teal, Larry (1963). The Art of Saxophone Playing. Miami: Summy-Birchard. pp. 17. ISBN 0-87487-057-7. "A preference as to material used is up to the individual, and the advantages of each are a matter of controversy. Mouthpieces of various materials which have exactly the same dimensions, including the chamber and outside measurements as well as the facing, play very nearly the same." 
  21. ^ "James Fei: DVD". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  22. ^ "Raschèr Saxophone Quartet". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  23. ^ "Amherst Saxophone Quartet". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  24. ^ "AureliaSax4". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  25. ^ "The Band". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  26. ^ "About the Nuclear Whales and their music". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  27. ^ "14th World Saxophone Congress 2006 - Ljubljana - Slovenia". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  28. ^ "Jim Schmidt's Contralto". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  29. ^ "The Royal Holland Bell Ringers Collection and Archive". Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
  30. ^ "Slide sax picture at". Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
  31. ^ "Slide sax picture at". Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
  32. ^ "L.A. Sax Straight Models". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  33. ^ "Tubax E saxophone". Benedikt Eppelsheim Wind Instruments. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  34. ^ "Mento Music: Sugar Belly". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  35. ^ "Culture & Arts in North Sulawesi, Indonesia". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  36. ^ "a bio-aesthetic offspring of single reed woodwinds-Dieter Clermont and his Thai partner Khanung Thuanthee build bamboo saxophones in North Thailand since the late 1980s". Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  37. ^ "Thai Bamboo Saxophone". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  38. ^ "Un Mundo de Bambú". Retrieved 2007-05-07. 


  • Grove, George (January 2001). Stanley Sadie. ed. The New Grove Encyclopædia of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). Grove's Dictionaries of Music. Volume 18, pp534–539. ISBN 1561592390. 
  • Horwood, Wally (1992) [1983]. Adolphe Sax, 1814-1894: His Life and Legacy ((Revised edition) ed.). Herts: Egon Publishers. ISBN 0-905858-18-2. 
  • Howe, Robert (2003). Invention and Development of the Saxophone 1840-55. Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society. 
  • Ingham, Richard (1998). The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0521593484. 
  • Kool, Jaap (in German). Das Saxophon. Leipzig: J. J. Weber.  (translated to English as Gwozdz, Lawrence (1987). The Saxophone. Egon Publishers Ltd. )
  • Kotchnitsky, Léon (1985) [1949]. Sax and His Saxophone (fourth ed.). North American Saxophone Alliance. 
  • Lindemeyer, Paul (1996). Celebrating the Saxophone. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-13518-8. 
  • Segell, Michael (2005). The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-15938-6. 
  • Thiollet, Jean-Pierre (2004). Sax, Mule & Co. Paris: H & D. ISBN 2-914-26603-0. 
  • Marzi, Mario (2009). Il Saxofono (in italian language). The Expression of Music 4. Varese, Italy: Zecchini Editore (Zecchini Publisher). pp. 468. ISBN 978-88-87203-86-8. 

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Saxophone alto.jpg


The Saxophone

The saxophone, or sax, is a single-reed instrument, which comes in many different sizes: from sopranisimo (soprillo) to sub-contrabass. There are four "main" members of the family are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone (bari). Although it is almost exclusively made of brass, the sax is a member of the woodwind family. It has fingerings and mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet, but with a conical bore. The small mouthpiece and short length of the soprano make this member susceptible to changes of the embouchure; therefore the pitch can be difficult to control. Conversely, the tenor and bari saxes are somewhat easier to control, but the amount of air needed to produce a tone is much higher. The alto sax is a good beginning instrument because it is widely available, fits into small (4th grader's) hands easily, and is the most popular size.

Musical Styles

The saxophone can be used to play a variety of musical styles. Many modern wind ensembles will include one or two of the saxophone members. There are many classical pieces have been written for sax quartets, which consist of one tenor, one baritone, one alto and one soprano sax. In a quartet the four musicians usually play with just each other sans accompaniment. In the classical realm of study, the standard instrument is the alto sax, for which such standard pieces as the Creston Sonata have been written. Although the tenor is more commonplace than the soprano, there are quite a number of well-known and prolific artists that write for the soprano sax. No jazz band would be complete without a sax section, and in a standard jazz big band, the sax section consists of two altos, two tenors and one bari sax. The lead is the first alto, and the bulk of the solos go to the first tenor. For jazz in general, the sax is one of the most popular instruments in the art. Jazz legends such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond are (or were) sax players who had very unique styles of playing their saxes. Saxophones can also be used in many other styles of music such as rock, pop, smooth jazz, adult contemporary, and musical theater.

The Reed

The reed on the saxophone is almost identical to that of the clarinet. The single reed vibrates against the mouthpiece when air is blown into the mouthpiece. Depending on the mouthpiece, reed, ligature used and also on the dimensions of the mouth and embouchure, a wide range of tones is produced. Reeds come in a wide variety of strengths and cuts, which vary from box to box and from manufacturer to manufacturer. For the beginner, a reed of strength 2 to 2.5 is normal. An intermediary to advanced setting would be a 3.5 (Vandoren) on a Selmer S80 C* (or C for tenor) mouthpiece (This is the "classic" setup, and works for both tenor and alto. It is used by many college institutions, and many private instructors use this). As the embouchure becomes stronger, higher strength reeds can be utilized. Generally, a stronger reed will be more in-tune throughout the range of the saxophone, and make playing the altissimo range possible. Using a higher strength reed will also affect the timber, or tone, and can increase the overall volume. The softer the reed the easier the lower range, but the upper register will tend to close up. The harder the reed the easier the higher notes will pop out but it will be more difficult to get the lower range out. Proper care of your reeds is very important. When not in use, take the reed off and keep it in a protector to prevent warping. A good reed keeper can be commercially acquired, or you can make one out of a glass slide / cut plate glass (careful with the edges!) with rubber bands. During periods where the reed will be left on in-between playing, use a mouthpiece cap. This protects the reed both from accidental physical damage, and helps prevent the reed from cracking (by slowing down evaporation). It is important that while playing that the ENTIRE reeds maintains its wetness. Before playing, soak the reed for about 2-3 minutes. Don't forget to wet the stock or back sides of the reed. There are many brands and strengths of reed from the performer to choose from. A player of any ability is encouraged to try different brands, cuts and strengths. Although a reed may be called a "jazz reed," it could certainly be well suited for classical or rock playing. There are many brands sold in most music stores that musicians universally recognize as good quality reeds that can be used in a lot of styles. These brands include: Vandoren, Hemke, La Voz, and Rico Royals (NOT the regular/orange box Rico, those a disaster just waiting to happen.). There are other types of reeds out there, too; some players choose to use plastic reeds or plastic covered reeds. These reeds sound and can feel different from plain cane reeds.The tone of a wooden reed is far superior to that of a plastic reed. .

The Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece (sometimes abbr. MPC) that comes with the saxophone may not be suitable for the beginner. Instead, consider one of a few standard and widely-available beginning choices:

  • Selmer S80 C or C*
  • Yamaha 4CM
  • Meyer 4M
  • Rousseau 3R

These are hard rubber pieces with conservative tip openings. With a soft (~2) reed, they will be easy to play for a beginner. Many of these pieces can be used through college level of playing, too.

Mouthpieces are made out of different materials. A metal mouthpiece is usually marketed only for jazz or rock styles, but depending on the opening they can also be suitable for classical playing. In general, the higher the opening of the tip, the softer the reed you must use, and the harder it is to play (correctly, with good tone). Once you have developed decent tone, branch out a bit and try as many mouthpieces as you can. Look at various professional player's setups, and see if you like them. You may want to seek assistance from a private music teacher or your school music teacher when looking for a mouthpiece. But most importantly: Try before you buy!

The Ligature

The ligature, colloquially referred to as a lig, is yet another piece of the mouthpiece setup, and it does deserve some consideration. Because the sound is a result of the reed vibrating, you want to have a ligature that will let the reed vibrate efficiently. The ligature should apply even and symmetrical pressure on the reed. This is so that the reed can vibrate evenly, giving the player the clearest and most balanced possible sound. There are a variety of options to choose from. For most applications, the best, easiest, cheapest (~$12-25), and most widely available are canvas (marketed under the Rovner brand name) and metal ("Selmer style) ligatures.

A Final Note About Reeds, Mouthpieces and Ligatures

Selecting high-quality, hand-selected mouthpieces, ligatures and reeds that fit your playing level, style and mouth is the most important part of your setup (and probably the cheapest, too). A mouthpiece setup will sound similar on many different saxophones, whereas the same sax can sound drastically different with a different MPC/lig/reed setup. Even a beginning student should try several brands and sizes to see what is most comfortable. Buying a MPC/lig/reed setup that costs $150-300 and then buying a $700-1200 (used?) instrument is MUCH better than spending $850-1500 on an instrument and using the "free" mouthpiece that the sax comes with.

The Embouchure

The saxophone embouchure, when formed correctly, should feel natural and comfortable. When forming the embouchure, take the following steps:

1. Cover gently the lower teeth with the lower lip, and press gently against the reed.

2. Place your top teeth on the top (biteplate) of the mouthpiece. Do not bite hard!!

3. "Purse" the corners of your lips, and form an airtight seal around the mouthpiece.

4. Relax and blow easily (think warm, slow air).

Producing a tone

After practicing the embouchure as described above, and the resulting tone is not beautiful, try altering the firmness of your embouchure. Most likely you are biting too hard, especially if it sounds "choked," or you cannot produce a steady, moderate volume, in-tune pitch. The saxophone tone is not overly difficult to develop, but like all instruments improves with practice. Getting with a private instructor is the best method to ensure that your technique is correct, and to learn quickly.

Altissimo Register

It is possible to extend the range by about one octave into what is known as the altissimo register. After a few years of study, one can become very proficient. The notes that can be produced above the fundamental tone are called harmonics. Altissimo notes are harmonics that can be played using alternate / creative fingerings. For example, while playing a low Bb, try using your throat play a middle Bb while maintaining the low Bb fingering (don't pinch!). See how many harmonics you can make while fingering a low Bb. For further study, obtain an altissimo fingering chart. Note that fingerings will be different from one instrument to another, and also vary by the player. Learning altissimo note also helps develop your embouchure.

Mrzonules 20:46, 7 February 2007 (UTC)

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SAXOPHONE (Ger. Saxophon, Ital. sassofone), a modern hybrid musical instrument invented by Adolphe Sax, having the clarinet mouthpiece with single reed applied to a conical brass tube. In general appearance the saxophone resembles the bass clarinet, but the tube of the latter is cylindrical and of wood; both instruments are doubled up near the bell, which is shaped somewhat like the flower of the gloxinia. The mouthpiece in both is fixed to a serpentine tube at right angles to the main bore. On the saxophone, owing to its conical bore, the production of sound materially differs from that of the clarinet, and resembles that of the oboe. The reed mouthpiece in combination with a conical tube allows the performer to give the ordinary harmonic series unbroken, which means in practice that the octave or second member of the harmonic series is first overblown when the pressure of the breath and the tension of the lips on the reed are proportionally increased. The saxophone is therefore one of the class known as octave instruments. The fundamental note given out by the tube when the lateral holes are closed is that of an open organ pipe of the same length, whereas when, as in the clarinet family, the reed mouthpiece is combined with a cylindrical bore, the tube behaves as though it were closed at one end, and its notes are an octave lower in pitch. Hence the bass clarinet to give the same note as a bass saxophone would need to be only half as long. The closed pipe, moreover, can only overblow the uneven numbers of the harmonic series, and therefore first gives the 12th instead of the octave, which necessitates an entirely different arrangement of holes and keys and a different scheme of fingering.

The bore of the saxophone is large, and there are from 18 to 20 keys covering holes of large diameter to produce the fundamental scale. The first 15 semitones are obtained by opening successive keys, the rest of the compass by means of octave keys enabling the performer to sound the harmonic octave of the fundamental scale. The compass of the various saxophones extends over 2 octaves and a fifth with chromatic intervals, being one octave less than the clarinet. The complete family consists of the accompanying members. The treble clef is used in notation, and all saxophones are transposing instruments, the music being written in a higher key, according to the difference in pitch between the fundamental note of the instrument and the standard C of the notation. The keys given above are of the orchestral saxophones; the instruments used in military bands are a tone lower. The quality of tone of this family of instruments is inferior to that of the clarinets and has affinities with that of the harmonium.

According to Berlioz it has vague analogies with the timbre of 'cello, clarinet and cor anglais,with, how ever, a brazen tinge. To a clock maker of Lisieux named Desfon tenelles, who made a clarinet with a conical bore and an upturned bell in 1807, is due the combination of single reed mouthpiece with a conical tube. In 1840 Adolphe Sax, in trying to produce a clarinet that would overblow an octave like the flute and oboe, invented the saxophone, which at once leapt into popularity in France and Belgium, where the alto, tenor and baryton have superseded the bassoon in almost all the military bands. Many modern French composers, Meyerbeer, Massenet, Ambroise Thomas and others, have scored for it in their operas. Kastner introduced it into the orchestra in Paris in 1844 in Le Dernier Roi de Juda. The saxophone has been adopted in England at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. (K. S.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. saxophones

Alternative spellings


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

How To Play The Saxophone

A baritone saxophone.

This is a draft of an online saxophone method.


  1. Getting Started Development stage: 75% (as of Jan 15, 2005)
  2. The Saxophone Family
  3. How to form an embouchure
  4. First notes Development stage: 75% (as of Feb 17, 2008)
  5. Flat notes and sharp notes
  6. Extending the range
  7. The keys with sharps
  8. The keys with flats
  9. The minor keys
  10. The Quatertones
  11. Improvisation, pentatonic and blues scales
  12. Let's make some music together

Commercial Saxophone Books

  1. Scales And Arpeggios For Saxophone, Grades 1-8

Simple English

[[File:|right|frame| This is a Baritone saxophone]]

A saxophone is a musical instrument that is made of brass and often just called a "sax". Due to the fact it is made from brass it is often involved in what is referred to as a brass section alongside true brass instruments like the trumpet or trombone. However, it is not a true brass instrument but a member of the woodwind family of instruments because it has a reed. It was developed from the clarinet and shares many similarities to the clarinet. The player blows into a reed fitted into the mouthpiece of the instrument. The instrument is rarely used in a classical orchestra.

There are several different kinds of saxophone. In order from low to high pitch they are: Tubax, Contrabass, Bass, Baritone, Tenor, Alto, Soprano, Sopranino, and Soprillo. However, only the baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano are the most commonly used types. It was invented in 1842 by Adolphe Sax and is very popular with modern rock and pop musicians, and often used in jazz music. The big bands of the 1940s and 1950s always used it too. Famous saxophone players were Marcel Mule (classical music) and Charlie Parker (jazz music).

The saxophone family is known as a transpositional family of instruments due to the fact that you do not have to alter the fingering when playing different ones.

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