Oct 14

Phil Barone

Basic Information About The saxophone

by Phil Barone

All That Jazz: A Wealth Of Sound

Music is seen as a window into the soul. Each instrument evokes a different style and group of emotions, yet still provides the versatility to be injected into many different forms of music, while maintaining its individuality. A saxophone reflects the time during which it's played, the feelings of the player, and the mood of its surrounding environment and audience. After all, a major purpose of music is for it to be performed, heard, and remembered. Considering the richness of a saxophone like the saxophone, it is no exception to the art of orchestrated storytelling.

Also referred to as a sax, the saxophone is actually a woodwind instrument, typically made out of thin brass with a cone-shaped tube and a single-reed mouthpiece that is similar in style to a clarinet. The reason saxophones are considered part of the woodwind family is because of the use of an oscillating wood reed to generate sound waves, as opposed to just one's use of their lips and airflow.

The tip of the saxophone is flared into the shape of a bell. Along its tube are approximately twenty to twenty-three variously-sized tone holes and two small vent holes designed to assist with playing music in the upper register. The saxophone's vent holes are covered by keys with pads made from soft leather that provide an airtight seal on the instrument tube. It's interesting to note here that when the saxophone is at rest, some of these vent holes are left open, while others are closed off. A player will use their fingers to press on the keys, while their right thumb remains underneath the sax on a thumb rest, to keep the instrument stabilized.

Adding to their allure, saxophones are available in several different types, and the user can choose the one that best suits his or her needs and personality. The four most common types of sax are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Less common are the bass and C-melody saxophones.

The soprano B-flat sax is characterized with the highest pitch of all four main sax types. It is often heard as part of background or elevator music. The soprano sax can be either straight in shape or curved with a flared bell. The alto E-flat sax has a pitch range higher than that of a tenor sax, but not quite as high as the soprano. The alto saxophone is a common choice for beginners, school music bands, and is considered the most popular among classical performers and composers.

Alto saxophones contribute to concert, funk, jazz, pop, blues, and rock music. The B-flat tenor sax is slightly larger than than alto saxophones and has a crook in its neck piece. The tenor sax is popularly believed to be the signature instrument of modern jazz. The E-flat baritone is the largest of the common group of saxophones and is the most difficult to carry around due to its size.

A Brief History Of The Saxophone

The saxophone was first invented in 1846 by a Belgian instrument maker, flutist, and clarinetist named Adolphe Sax. Prior to his invention, Sax made keywork and acoustic improvements to the bass clarinet and succeeded in extending its range. Adolphe Sax developed several saxophones in various sizes throughout the 1840s and received a fifteen-year patent that included fourteen different versions of the instrument on June 28, 1846.

When Sax's patent expired in 1866, the design and keywork on the instrument continued to evolve and improve, thanks to the work of other manufacturers and saxophonists. Such improvements included the addition of extra keys and alternate fingerings in order to make certain music passages less difficult to perform. Another important advancement was in the ability for the left thumb to operate both tone holes on the instrument using a single octave key, which is still common with most modern saxophones.

Additional advancements to the design of the saxophone were made in the 1930s and 1940s by Henri Selmer Paris, which included offsetting the instrument's tone holes as well as a redesign of the octave key.

Play To Your Heart's Content

For newcomers to the instrument, finding a saxophone package that makes it easy to get started is the most important thing. This involves finding a good mouthpiece and choosing reeds that make the instrument produce the richest sound possible without too much effort.

If your investment is for a beginner, the alto sax is a great choice because it requires the use of less air than other saxophones. Additionally, there's a large volume of music literature written specifically for the alto sax, making it easy to pick up the instrument and learn the fundamentals.

Not only does the smaller key scale of an alto sax fit easily in a young person’s hands, but both the embouchure and airflow needed to successfully play alto saxophones transferable to all of the other types of saxophones. That said, your student will acquire training early and be able to apply it to more complex saxophones when their interest grows.

Some saxophones are made with lacquered keys and treated leather pads, which serve to add durability to the instrument. That said, if you're purchasing an instrument for a student, longevity of the instrument's construction will be a large consideration.