A Look at the 4 Most Commonly Played Saxophones

Many consider the saxophone the heart and soul instrument behind a jazz band. Although saxophones were originally used for strictly military reasons, the soulful instrument eventually became popular with musicians and revolutionized jazz music. While the tenor and alto saxes are the saxophones most commonly used within jazz, the versatile instrument is definitely not limited to these two types. Let’s take a look at the variety of common saxophones there are out there.

Soprano Saxophone

This saxophone is the highest pitched of the saxes because it is also the smallest. Nowadays, most soprano saxes are straight or straight with a slightly curved neck, bell or both, though there are also less common curved sopranos. An ethereal sound flows out of the bell of the soprano and is often used for the main melody. Generally accepted as the most difficult saxophone to play because it requires an extremely precise embouchure, it is not recommended for beginners of the sax to attempt (although it is much fun to play!).

Alto Saxophone

The alto saxophone has a rich and lovely sound that is the second highest pitched sax, which is because of its smaller size. Also as a result from the small size and pleasant sound, the alto sax is most often found in school bands because younger students can handle the instrument well.

Often used as the main melody, this saxophone is in the shape of a backwards “J,” has a straight neck, and is exactly one octave higher than the baritone.

Tenor Saxophone

The tenor sax is the most versatile of all the saxophones, mostly due to its larger mouthpiece. This allows the tenor to play wide variations of tone qualities – they have a large altissimo range, can growl, produce a breathy, whispering sound, and a fat resonant tone for swing tunes. Tenor saxophones have the same backwards “J” shape as the alto, but it is slightly larger and has a small bend in the neck (which increases the chance of neck damage). Though most associated with jazz culture, the tenor sound can also be heard in most rock ‘n’ roll music from the 50s and 60s and is normally used for harmony, backup, and solos.

Baritone Saxophone

The largest sax in the family of the four most commonly played saxophones, the “B flat baritone” has a deep bass tone that can be modified to a “low A” baritone with a horn extension. Because of its large size, baritone players often have to wear a harness to support its weight and is the most prone to damage. Despite the setbacks this saxophone suffers because of its size, it’s been said to be an amazing playing experience completely unlike any of the other saxes.

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Brad Parmerter has almost 20 years experience in the music and entertainment industry as a writer, programmer, and merchandiser. He has professionally interviewed and photographed such artists as: Rush, Metallica, Celine Dion, Live, Phil Collins, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Live, Van Halen, Queensryche, Anna Nalick, Styx, Def Leppard, and many more.

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Sax Alto by Helal Nassar.
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