The saxophone is one of the world’s most popular instruments and is technically in the woodwind family/woodwind instruments although they are usually made of brass. It was first conceived around 1840 and developed in 1846 by a Belgian born instrument maker/inventor by the name of Adolphe Sax. Find out more about the different types of saxophones here and which one is right for you.
The saxophone is a fun-to-play instrument that is commonly used in a variety of musical genres, including classical, rock, blues, and reggae and they are used in chamber music, such as saxophone quartets and other chamber combinations of instruments. A brass instrument dates back to the mid 19th century but they are mostly used as an ensemble instrument in concert bands, symphonic bands, marching bands, and occasionally orchestras. They were the E flat sopranino, F sopranino, B flat soprano, C soprano, E flat alto, F alto, B flat tenor, C tenor, E flat baritone, B flat bass, C bass, E flat contrabass, F contrabass, and subcontrabass.
Other types were created since then including the C-melody saxophone, Conn-O-Sax, F Mezzo-Soprano, F baritone, and the sopranissimo (nick-named the world’s smallest saxophone or soprillo).
If you’ve never played the instrument before, you might be under the impression that there’s only one type available. However, the truth of the matter is that there are several.
Curious as to the different types of saxophones this world has to offer? Read on! These are the various types of saxophones.
Types of Saxophones
Saxophones come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes and produce a wide variety of sounds. Here are the different types of saxophones in the saxophone family. Highest Pitch (also marked “H” or “HP”) saxophones tuned sharper than the (concert) A = 440 Hz standard was produced into the early twentieth century for sonic qualities suited for outdoor uses, but are not playable to modern tuning and are considered obsolete. Lowest Pitch (also marked “L” or “LP”) saxophones are equivalent in tuning to modern instruments. C soprano and C melody saxophones were produced for the casual market as parlor instruments during the early twentieth century and it was marketed in the mid-1910s to 1920s as a non-transposing instrument.
The biggest saxophone in the world, the subcontrabass saxophone possesses nearly comical size. It stands in at around 10 feet tall, making it taller than just about any human who has ever walked the earth.
This saxophone creates absurdly low notes, some of which are so low that they can barely be heard by human ears. Loud and powerful, the subcontrabass saxophone is about as booming a brass instrument as you’re ever going to find.
There are very few subcontrabass saxophones existing in the world today. This is because they’re almost impossible for most individuals to play. As a beginner, you won’t get anywhere near one of these instruments.
The next biggest saxophone is the contrabass saxophone. This instrument stands in at around 6 feet tall and typically has to be held horizontally in order to be played. However, if you’re sitting down, it can be played upright.
While it doesn’t get an extraordinary amount of play overall, the contrabass saxophone is used much more frequently than the rarely seen subcontrabass saxophone. In most cases, you’ll see it used by virtuoso jazz players. It has a bit of a novelty quality.
Creating a big, resonating sound, this saxophone is not designed for beginner players. It requires far too much lung capacity in order to be played correctly.
Next up is the bass saxophone. While not as large as the subcontrabass or contrabass saxophones, this saxophone is still rather large, measuring in at around 4 feet in height.
These days, this type of saxophone is not used often. However, you might still see some jazz players playing it on occasion. It was fairly popular in the early 20th century, providing good low end for jazz big bands.
As a beginner, there’s essentially no chance of you learning the bass saxophone. Its necessity for a large lung capacity makes it more conducive to the talents of seasoned musicians.
The baritone saxophone is the largest of the commonly used saxophones, standing it at around 3 feet in height. Weighing in at between 12 and 35 pounds, this saxophone is bulky but manageable.
You’ll see the baritone saxophone being used in a number of different musical genres. Not only is it used by jazz musicians and classical musicians, but by rock musicians as well.
While this musical instrument produces fairly low notes, its notes are easily distinguishable, allowing them to be heard with great precision and clarity. Nonetheless, it’s generally used to provide songs with low end.
Though beginner players don’t typically jump straight to the baritone saxophone, they’re usually able to pick it up within a few years of beginning lessons. The reason that it’s not typically picked up immediately is that it requires a great deal of lung strength.
The tenor saxophone is one of the most widely used saxophones in the world. This saxophone is used extensively in a number of genres, from jazz to classical, to rock music, and much, much more. Some of the more prominent players of the tenor saxophone include John Coltrane, Clarence Clemons, and Coleman Hawkins.
This is a mid-sized saxophone, capable of being handled by players of all sizes. Often used in marching bands or military bands, it produces a full, but crisp sound that’s great for rhythm work and harmony alike.
Many beginner saxophone players start off by learning the tenor saxophone. It’s a great bridge to all other types of saxophones.
Like the tenor saxophone, the alto saxophone is one of the most commonly played saxophones in existence. This type of saxophone is used heavily in all types of music, including classical, jazz, and rock. Some famous musicians who played the alto saxophone include Charlie Parker and Jimmy Dorsey.
Designed to play melodies, the alto sax produces a clear, mid-level sound that cuts through the mixture of other instruments. Often used by soloists, it’s one of the premier lead instruments in brass bands.
Alto saxophones are fairly small in stature, making them not only easy to hold but easy to play as well. Because of this, they’re great for beginners.
While soprano saxophones make similar sounds to all other types of saxophones, they are shaped far differently. Whereas other saxophones have a curved shape, soprano saxophones have a straight shape. In fact, they look similar to recorders and clarinets.
This type of saxophone is more difficult to learn and not recommended for beginning players. Correct embouchure or mouth position is critical to play this type of saxophone successfully.
Soprano saxophones are generally used by soloists in jazz music and classical music. Instrumentalist Kenny G can often be seen playing a soprano saxophone.
In general, beginner players should avoid soprano saxophones. These saxophones necessitate a very precise technique in order to be played appropriately. Most beginners will not possess this technique.
Visually, sopranino saxophones are like soprano saxophones, but smaller. Sound-wise, they produce slightly higher notes.
Sopranino saxophones are specialty saxophones that are generally only brought out to provide unique coloring to specific songs. Most often used by jazz musicians, they excel in improvisation.
Like soprano saxophones, sopranino saxophones are difficult for beginner players to learn. Those who are just starting out should generally not opt for sopranino saxophones.
Interested in Taking Saxophone Lessons?
Looking to learn more about the various types of saxophones? Interested in taking saxophone lessons in Toronto? Merriam Music is the school you seek.
We offer top-notch music lessons for all types of saxophones. Our experienced teachers will not only give you valuable lessons on technique and music theory, but they will also help you to choose the type of saxophone which best suits your playing style and capabilities.
Contact us today to sign up at one of our various locations!