Saxophone/The Saxophone Family

The saxophone is a family of woodwind musical instruments. Each type of saxophone has a different size, pitch and key. There are four types of saxophone commonly used, although more do exist, they are very rare and are not yet covered in this text.

Soprano Saxophone


One of the highest in pitch of the saxophones is the Bb Soprano Saxophone. A person who masters the soprano usually finds it easy to play the alto saxophone because of the mouthpiece size. The soprano comes in three shapes. The most common is the straight soprano, which looks like a brass clarinet, albeit with a conical shape, rather than a cylindrical one. The next is the curved soprano which looks like a mini-alto sax. The least common is the saxello, which looks like a straight soprano, but the bell faces front

There are two smaller varieties of saxophone, the sopranino (in Eb, an octave above the alto, in both straight and curved versions), and newly developed, the soprillo saxophone in Bb, an octave above the soprano, straight version only. The sopranino is sometimes used in saxophone choirs but the soprillo is almost never seen.

Alto Saxophone


Lower in pitch than the soprano, and higher than the tenor, the alto sax is an E flat instrument. The notes range from low Bb to a high F, not including altissimo. It is the most popular member in the saxophone family simply because it is the easiest to play and master, especially among beginning students.

There are straight versions of the alto as well. Both LA Sax and Keilwirth make straight varieties of this sax, but it is again, uncommon. One of the most influential alto sax players in the Bebop era of the jazz scene is Charlie Parker, who was known for introducing flurries of 8th and 16th notes into improvised solos.

Tenor Saxophone


This is probably the most famous and well known sounds in the music of today. It ranges from low Bb on the treble cleff to high F, and even higher with altissimo notes. Usually, the tenor is in the key of Bb, played by 80's musician, Eddie Money, and in 1952 the father of free jazz, John Coltrane. Sometimes they are placed in the key of C, which was most notably played by Lester Young.

The tenor sax is used in marching bands, concert bands, and jazz bands. In marching bands, they play close to the same thing as trombones and baritones. In concert bands, they act as a woodwind baritone if you will. In jazz bands, they have the most significant role in a big band setting. They are good instruments for improvisation and used in solo jazz settings.

Baritone Saxophone


One of the lowest saxophones, the baritone is an E flat instrument. It is the largest common saxophone, and it is characterised by its unusual curled neck. There is also a straight baritone saxophone, but it is extremely rare.

There are lower pitched members of the saxophone family that do exist. The bass, contrabass, tubax, and subcontrabass tubax are members that plummet to the deepest pitches of the piano.