The Saxophone

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Hector Berlioz was the first musician and composer to give praise to the saxophone. He also created the first saxophone composition. Most saxophones are made of brass but in some cases they are also made of precious metals such as sterling silver, copper, or bronze. Some saxophones have been made of plastic, acrylic, or polycarbonate. The mouthpiece of the saxophone was originally made of wood, such as boxwood, and later rosewood and granadilla. There are still some wooden mouthpieces manufactured today but they are much less common.

Many jazz and classical musicians use saxophone mouthpieces made of rubber, but others prefer mouthpieces made of metal.

Instruments in Depth - The Saxophone

Beginner saxophone players often use mouthpieces made of plastic. The saxophone's design includes a reed, ligature, main body, tone holes, a thumb rest, a rod system, pads, and a bell. The contrabass is the largest standard saxophone built today. It is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs approximately 45 pounds. It has a sound a full octave lower than the baritone sax.

The smallest saxophone built today is the soprillo. It is only 12 inches and has a sound that is an octave higher than the soprano sax.

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The Saxophone

The saxophone is most commonly associated with popular music , big band music, jazz, and rock and roll, but it was originally intended as both an orchestral and military band instrument. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

Sounds and Styles

Unique in its origin as being invented for its particular sound, the saxophone is the result of its inventor's realization that there was no instrument that could produce a heavy reed sound with great power. He thus transformed a woodwind instrument into a more powerful woodwind device, enlarging the woodwind family and giving both composers and musicians a new musical apparatus for performance. Adolphe Sax was a Belgian -born instrument-maker, flautist, and clarinetist working in Paris.

He constructed saxophones in several sizes by the early s, but he did not receive a patent for the instrument until June, 28 The instrument was first officially revealed to the public in the presentation of his bass saxophone in C at an exhibition in Brussels in Sax also gave private showings to Parisian musicians in the early s.

He drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones, but they were not all realized. The precise inspiration for the instrument is unknown, but there is good evidence that the saxophone was created by fitting a clarinet mouthpiece to an ophicleide, a type of conical bore, brass-keyed bugle.

10 Most Epic Sax Solos of All Time (1958-2017)

Sax built ophicleides, among other instruments, in the late s. Sax's intent was to invent an entirely new instrument in order to provide bands and orchestras with a bass sound to compliment the woodwind and brass sections. Tubas began to appear around this time with a similar purpose. Sax's instrument would be capable of a more refined performance than the ophicleide, but with enough power to be used outdoors.

Sax intended to harness the finesse of the woodwind with the power of a brass instrument. For a long time, the saxophone was restricted to military bands and not used in orchestral groups, due in part to Sax's tendency to offend rival instrument manufacturers, resulting in prejudice toward the man and his instrument.


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For the duration of the patent, only the Sax factory could legally manufacture or modify the instrument. However this, along with a number of other of Sax's patents, were routinely breached by his rivals. After the patent expired in , various manufacturers introduced competing models and made modifications to Sax's original design.

The saxophone uses a single reed mouthpiece similar to that of a clarinet , but with a round or square evacuated inner chamber. It is considerably larger and has cork adjusting to the neck. The saxophone's body is effectively conical, giving it acoustic properties more akin to the oboe than to the clarinet.

However, unlike the oboe, whose tube is a single cone, most saxophones have a distinctive curve at the bell. Straight soprano saxophones are more common than curved ones, and very few straight alto, and tenor saxophones have been made, as novelties.

The First Saxophone Was Made of Wood

Straight baritone and C melody saxophones have occasionally been made as custom instruments, but were never production items. There is some debate among players as to whether the curve affects the tone or not. Saxophones produce different notes using a key system consisting of pads and tone holes. A saxophone has 21 to 23 keys, depending on whether it has a high F , a high G, or a low A key. Since , the high F key has become common among intermediate and professional level instruments, while the high G key is found on only a few modern sopranos.

When pressure is applied to a key it opens or closes one or more of the tone holes by lifting or lowering a pad.

The pads, usually made of leather or an artificial material that acts as leather, cover tone holes and form an airtight seal, preventing any air from escaping. Almost all woodwind instruments use the same idea to execute different notes, although the details of each instrument can differ greatly.

A Newbie in Terms of Instruments, the Sax Has an Interesting History

The saxophone was originally patented as two families, each consisting of seven instruments. Each family consisted of sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass and contrabass, although some of these were never made; Sax also planned—but never made—a subcontrabass Bourdon saxophone. These form the typical saxophone sections of concert bands, military bands , and big band jazz ensembles. A typical saxophone section in a concert band might consist of four to six altos, one to three tenors, and one or two baritones.

A typical saxophone section in a jazz band consists of two altos, two tenors, and a baritone.

The instrument was invented by–you guessed it–Adolphe Sax

Occasionally a band or jazz ensemble will perform a piece that calls for soprano saxophone. In this case it is common practice for one of the players from the alto section to switch to soprano for that piece. Most saxophone players begin learning on the alto, branching out to tenor, soprano, or baritone after gaining competency.

The alto saxophone is the most popular among classical composers and performers. Most classical saxophonists thus focus primarily on the alto. In jazz, alto and tenor are predominantly used by soloists.

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