Brass and Wind Saxophones

The Ultimate Guide to Saxophones for Curious Newbies

So that you wanna find out how to play the saxophone, huh?

Let’s face it, all of us thought-about enjoying it sooner or later in our life.

We all take into account the image of a lone saxophonist enjoying in a foggy road of New York City at night time… Proper?

And there’s simply something distinctive and interesting about its sound, the musicians who play it, and even its form…

And, in contrast to the vast majority of musical instruments, the saxophone is a reasonably current invention, which may be one of the purpose it’s so versatile.

So whether you want to study to play that tacky 80’s lick, or grow to be the subsequent John Coltrane…

I’ve in at present’s in-depth article all the things you need to know to get started on the saxophone…

In addition to to take your enjoying to the subsequent degree in case you are already a confirmed musician.

Sounds good?

Then let’s start.

First up…

Anatomy of a Saxophone

Regardless that it is mainly made from brass, the saxophone is just not to be confused with brass instruments (which haven’t any reed, such because the trumpet).

Its sound is produced by blowing into a mouthpiece and making a reed vibrate towards this similar mouthpiece.

The greater the physique, the lower the sound

The saxophone is product of four foremost elements:

  • The mouthpiece
  • The neck
  • The body
  • The bell

Relying on the model you’re taking a look at, all these elements range in measurement.

And so, subsequent up…

Saxophones Sizes

There are lots of totally different saxophone sizes, however for this text I’ll cowl the four most popular ones :

  • Soprano
  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Baritone

These sizes cowl the most typical vary of notes used in an orchestra/massive band, and they’re also the simplest fashions to come by, as well as the simplest to PLAY.

Certainly, attempt wanting for models corresponding to a sopranissimo or a subcontrabass saxophone and tell me the way it went…

And in case you ever do handle to find one, attempt to play it. These devices are extremely troublesome to play, due either to their measurement and the method required to play them.

So back to our four fashions: amongst them, 2 are particularly widespread:

  • The alto sax – which has a brilliant, greater pitched sound, and…
  • The tenor sax – which has a fuller, deeper sound.

These are the two models you hear probably the most, inside as well as outdoors of jazz and classical music.

Now, alto and tenor sax play the very same vary of notes, which means their lowest and highest notes are the same. The solely difference is their pitch, and some individuals say the alto’s pitch is analogous to the one among a feminine voice, whereas the tenor’s pitch is analogous to the male voice.

Take a look at this video to hear the variations between these two for your self:

Next up..

How to select a saxophone measurement

Earlier than making a choice, know that each one 4 models share the same fingerings, which means that in case you can play one mannequin, you technically can play all of them.

Choosing a selected sort of saxophone primarily comes down to these elements:

  • Who’re your favourite musicians
  • Which sound you want probably the most
  • What music genre you want to play

However let me inform you proper now, the LEAST obvious selection right here is the baritone sax, and that’s as a result of it’s only very not often played as a solo instrument…

Which means you in all probability gained’t ever find a “regular” band with a baritone sax, until it’s a saxophone band or an enormous band.

Received it? Good, now let’s look into every model with more details.

First up…


Undoubtedly THE commonest sax of all…

The alto sax could be very typically the first selection for newcomers and youngsters, as a result of:

  • It’s small and lightweight enough to be comfortably held by a toddler
  • You don’t want to make an incredible effort to produce a sound once you start
  • It’s easier to handle than a soprano sax, thanks to the neck and shoulder strap

In all probability probably the most versatile saxophone of all, you’ll hear it in completely all music genres, from jazz and classical music to rock and pop.

For those who’re wanting for probably the most reasonably priced and widespread choice to start with, you possibly can’t go fallacious with an alto.

Next up…


A much bigger instrument, the tenor saxophone produces a decrease and deeper sound and subsequently requires extra air to be played… Which might be difficult for newbies.

You’ve in all probability heard it dozens of occasions in famous 80’s pop rock recordings (keep in mind that line in George Michaels’ Careless Whisper?)

Now, for some purpose the tenor sax appear to be somewhat bit more in style than the alto amongst extra experienced musicians…

In jazz for example, the truth is that you simply do see more tenor players than alto, and lots of players that start on the alto find yourself switching to the tenor after some time…

The commonest purpose being them preferring the sound of the tenor.

So now that we’ve coated the two most in style fashions, let’s study more concerning the two less fashionable fashions, beginning with the…


Everyone appears to agree that the soprano sax is the hardest saxophone to play out of the 4 models, and that’s as a result of:

  • Being the very best pitched saxophone, it’s very troublesome to maintain enjoying a constant word
  • All its weight is supported by the best thumb (although this can be improved with a curved soprano)
  • The mouthpiece can also be the smallest of all models, making it harder to play

All these elements typically lead to frustration and giving up the instrument, and that’s why many academics advise NOT to choose a soprano as your first sax.

Moreover, the soprano sax is never found outdoors of classical and particularly jazz music, in all probability because of its pitch, which doesn’t really go nicely with louder, catchier genres comparable to rock or pop.

There are 3 varieties of Soprano saxophones:

  • Straight – which is the most typical one
  • Curved – which some choose because you need to use a strap on it and it’s simpler to mic
  • Curved-neck – which some musicians favor due to its weight-distribution

Now, sound-wise, the only actual difference between these fashions lies behind the saxophone, which means the audience gained’t hear something, but you may.

Additionally, remember that on curved fashions, some keys nearer to the bell is perhaps more durable to attain for huge arms.

The peculiar factor concerning the soprano sax is that you simply not often see saxophone players who play it as a main instrument, but fairly a secondary instrument. In all probability due to the difficulties I discussed earlier.

Also, you’ll most likely never see saxophone gamers enjoying each alto and tenor, but you do see loads of players enjoying both alto and soprano, OR tenor and soprano…

John Coltrane for example – who is initially a tenor saxophone player – is legendary for enjoying the soprano on tunes reminiscent of “My Favorite Things” or “Afro Blue”, which are among his most well-known ones.

Next up…


As I stated earlier, the baritone sax is the least apparent selection:

  • Due to its measurement and weight
  • Because of its very low pitch

Nevertheless, most sources agree that it is no harder to play than the tenor.

Actually, being such a low pitched instrument, it’s comparatively straightforward to maintain enjoying in tune, in contrast to the soprano.

Saxophone players whose main instrument is the baritone are very rare and musicians similar to Gerry Mulligan, Cecil Paynes or Pepper Adams are just about the three main figures of this instrument and are all jazz musicians…

Which might truly be a bonus as you will undoubtedly not have much competitors when you select baritone as your main instrument…

But then again not many bands look for, or need a baritone saxophone, so undoubtedly also take that into consideration

Subsequent up…

A transposing instrument

Saxophones are transposing instruments, which means that in the event you play a C on a saxophone and a C on a non-transposing instrument (just like the piano), you’ll hear 2 totally different notes.

Now, not all saxophones are tuned the identical:

  • The alto and baritone sax are in Eb — one and a half step above non-transposing instruments.
  • The soprano and tenor are in Bb — one step beneath non-transposing instruments.

Which means in case you play a C on a piano, you’ll have to play an Eb on an alto/baritone sax and a Bb on a tenor/soprano so as to hear the same observe, and this process is known as transposing.

That can also be the rationale why musicians use the term concert C when referring to the “real” C, as opposed to the tenor/alto C.

Obtained it? Then let’s transfer on…

Mouthpiece and Reed

When buying your first saxophone you gained’t necessarily worry about which mouthpiece and reed it comes with…

However the fact is, these 2 elements have a CRUCIAL influence on the general sound, and it’s good to know you possibly can change them if you would like to.

So listed here are the sound influencing elements of a mouthpiece:

  1. The measurement of the tip opening – which refers to the space between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece.
  2. The measurement of the chamber – which refers to the dimensions of the opening in the mouthpiece.
  3. The baffle – which refers to a particular sort of roof on some mouthpieces.
  4. The reed power – which refers to the density of the reed.

So let’s now check out every of those characteristics with extra details.

Starting with…

1. Tip Opening

To know why the tip opening is essential, let’s first see how sound is created on a saxophone:

When air is blown into the mouthpiece the reed vibrates towards the mouthpiece. The air then goes via the saxophone body and ends up creating sound.

Totally different mouthpieces may have totally different tip openings, depending on their dealing with curve (shown by the inexperienced arrows on the picture on the appropriate).

In the picture on the best, the primary mouthpiece has a brief dealing with curve, main to a small tip opening whereas the mouthpiece on the second picture has a long dealing with curve, main to a giant tip opening.

Mouthpieces manufacturers measure the tip opening in millimetres or 1/10th of inches and the distinction between the smallest and the most important opening isn’t larger than 2mm.

But this distinction is sufficient to drastically change the sound, and tip opening sizes often range from 1.10mm to three.10mm.

And so:

  • A small tip opening – requires much less air and energy to produce sound, which is simpler to play.
  • An enormous tip opening – requires extra air and effort to produce sound, which is harder to play

When it comes to sound although, many gamers choose an enormous tip opening because the sound is deeper, hotter and permits for larger control, reminiscent of bending the notes.

So the overall rule is that novices ought to play on a small tip opening, while superior and professional players play on an enormous tip opening.

Nevertheless, some sources say that a large tip opening with a softer reed is actually simpler to play than a small tip opening with a hard reed, so anticipate to discover conflicting opinions on that subject.

Subsequent up…

2. Chamber Measurement

The measurement of the chamber influences the velocity at which the airflow travels to the physique of the saxophone.

  • In a small chamber the air goes via quicker resulting in a more projecting and cut-through sound
  • In an enormous chamber the air goes by way of slower resulting in a mellower sound

So the most typical advices are that if you’d like to play in a loud funk/rock band, you is perhaps higher off with a small chamber…

Whether for those who intend to play jazz or classical music you may want an enormous chamber to get a mellow, round sound. For instance, Ravel’s Boléro is a reasonably good depiction of that sound.

Next up…

3. Baffle

Up till the 1930’s, the saxophone was pretty much solely used in classical music which required a round and clear sound.

Unique saxophones all had  a “straight baffle” mouthpiece.

However with the emergence of jazz and large bands, saxophonists started modifying their mouthpiece to get hold of new sounds.

That’s once they came upon that by modifying the airstream they might change the tone, and this was executed by altering the baffle’s shape.

The baffle is principally the roof of the mouthpiece chamber and could be kind of sloped, which modifies the dimensions of the opening during which the air enters.

  • If the opening is giant the airflow has loads of area and doesn’t need to journey quick, leading to a rounder, mellower sound.
  • If the opening is small the airflow must journey quicker, leading to a brighter, more projecting sound.

Obtained it? Good.

Subsequent up…

four. Reeds

Amongst all the characteristics we’ve coated to date, reeds are in all probability the simplest one to change and modify…

Which is an effective factor considering you’ll be replacing them moderately regularly.

Indeed, being cheap, you’ll be able to right away purchase a number of differing types to experiment.

Anticipate to exchange them often. The typical  lifespan of a reed varies from every week to several months, relying on the mannequin and on your enjoying.

Indicators for when it’s time to change your reed are a chipped tip, a cracked reed or even black mould.

Reeds are ordered by power, referring to their hardness.

Brands often have their very own classification system, but often the bigger the number, the more durable the reed.

So what sort of reed do you have to use? Properly the overall consensus is that:

  • Gentle reeds – are often advisable for rookies as they don’t require much effort to play. They produce a vibrant sound with a lot of harmonics.
  • Exhausting reeds – require more effort to play but produce a mellower, deeper sound that many saxophonists choose.

Now, a standard fable you hear when beginning the saxophone is that each one the best saxophonists play or performed with giant tip openings and arduous reeds…

However that is simply NOT true. It all depends upon the sound you’re wanting for, and the reality is your embouchure (the best way your mouth grabs the mouthpiece) is an important issue, NOT the power of the reed.

Next up…

Scholar or Skilled sax?

There are 2 huge ranges of saxophones:

  • Scholar saxophones – that are product of cheaper supplies, but aren’t necessarily dangerous.
  • Skilled saxophones – which are aimed toward advanced/professional gamers and sometimes have many handmade elements.

Should you examine these 2 forms of saxophones on the picture on the fitting, you possibly can’t actually discover blatant variations…

But if we take a look at the small print, some variations appear:

  • The supplies – the metallic used in skilled sax is usually denser
  • The neck bore – it’s often bigger in skilled saxophones
  • The development – primarily the keys, which can be utilized in “single post” development (on scholar sax) or utilized in “ribbed” development (on professional sax)

Single publish contruction means the keys are individualy hooked up to the body of the saxophone, whereas ribbed development means they’re first hooked up to a “rib”, adding weight and rigidity to the saxophone.

And all of those little enhancements share 2 widespread objectives:

  • Decreasing the load and…
  • Enhancing the sound

Take a look at this video to hear the distinction between a scholar and knowledgeable saxophone for your self:

Subsequent up…

Advisable Saxophones

For this listing, I’ll order the saxophones by range (scholar/professional) and measurement.

Now, most saxophonists agree that one of the best brand is SELMER Paris (not to be confused with Selmer USA which sells high-end Chinese language and Taiwan made saxophones) which handcrafts each saxophone in Paris.

This brand nevertheless doesn’t make scholar saxophones, so anticipate very (very) high prices.

They did nevertheless launch a “low-cost” model caled Seles. Now, by low-cost I mean $2k saxophones as an alternative of $5k/$6k or more for regular Selmer sax.

So principally we’re speaking high-end vs. greatest probably human-made instrument, with no worth constraint.

Scholar Saxophones UNDER $1,500

  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Soprano
  • Baritone
    • Mendini by Cecilio – (Amazon)

Intermediate/Professionnal Saxophones ABOVE $1,500

  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Soprano
  • Baritone

That’s it

So there you have got it guys, an exhaustive information to the saxophone. Hopefully you now know sufficient to select the suitable one for you.

‘Til subsequent time.