The Saxophone Family of Instruments


The saxophone is a wonderful instrument that adds depth and variety to many pieces of music. It is a woodwind instrument and it uses a single reed attached to its mouthpiece. The reed vibrates as the air passes through it to allowing the saxophone to produce its great sound.

In the early 1800's, Adolphe Sax noticed that there was a bit of a gap between the brass and woodwind sections of the orchestra. The gap was produced because of the relatively quiet sounds produced by the woodwinds and the lack of versatility of pitch range among the brass instruments. Therefore, he developed the saxophone which gave strength of voice to the woodwinds and flexibility to the brass. He developed the instrument in 1841 and actually developed two different groups of the instruments. Between the sopranino saxophone and the contrabass saxophone, the one group of these instruments could span the entire range offered by a piano. Many of these are transposing instruments which lend a whole different set of abilities to the saxophones.

The patent that was given to Mr. Sax in 1846 expired in 1866. After the patent expired, numerous other musicians and instrument makers adjusted and added to Mr. Sax's original invention until it has evolved into the smooth handling instrument we have today. The original saxophone keys were very basic and simple but that made some of the passages difficult to play because of the way the fingering worked on the keys of the saxophone. Therefore, those improvements have added quality and simplicity to the instrument allowing saxophonists to be able to play difficult passages of music with relative ease.

The timbre of the saxophone, while originally intended as an orchestral instrument, lends itself, however, to many different types of music. Because of its intended and achieved musical versatility, the sax is a great instrument for jazz and blues music as well as rock and roll and big band music. Its size also makes it very easy for instrumentalists in marching bands to handle. The military band personnel play for many different functions and ceremonies including military funerals, welcoming dignitaries, swearing in of various political leaders, etc. This requires the versatility to be able to play those different types of music. The saxophone family of instruments actually has a "military band family" of saxophones such as the Subcontrabass saxophone, the baritone saxophone all the way to the sopranino saxophone. Many of these are used in orchestral pieces and particularly jazz pieces. Famous instrumentalists such as Kenny G have albums that feature his ability to play several different instruments in the saxophone family including the soprano sax primarily but also the alto and tenor sax, as well.

Students in grade school begin to learn to play the saxophone in about the fourth or fifth grades when they join the band at school. Because of size issues, most learn to play the alto sax because it is the right size for their fingers and their stature. The soprano saxophone, though much lighter, is considered a solo instrument and is more expensive that either the also or tenor sax. It is therefore not offered by most schools. However, alto saxophones and some tenor saxophones are can be purchased relatively inexpensively so many schools have both available. Once a student has learned to play the alto or tenor saxophone, it is usually fairly simple to move between the instruments in the saxophone family provided you understand the theory of transposition instruments and how that functions between the kinds of saxophones available.

If you want a smooth sounding instrument that lends itself to many different musical styles, you will not go wrong in learning to play the saxophone. Start with the alto or tenor sax, learn the notes and the way to hold and play the instrument. From there, you will be able to move to other types of saxophones, should you desire to do so. As it is, when you learn to play the sax, you will have an ability that will wow your friends and give you great pleasure at being able to pick up and play some of your favorite orchestral, jazz, or blues tunes anytime you wish.

 


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