The Saxophone

The saxophone is probably the most easily recognised and most well-known instrument in the wind category. Most popular for its prolific role in the jazz music genre, it is also used in classical music as well as marching bands – both military and civilian.

The sound it produces is described as ‘singing’ and has a powerful wide middle register. It is an excellent instrument to accompany vocals.

The saxophone was created by instrument maker Adolphe Sax, dating back to 1840. The instrument is also affectionately called the ‘sax’ named after its creator. Saxophones are usually made of brass and are played used with a mouthpiece of single reed. This is a powerful wind instrument and this traces back to its intention when Adolphe was designing it. He wanted to create the strongest of the woodwind instruments.

The sax is a tubular instrument with a wide flared bottom resembling an upside-down bell. Along the thin neck leading down to the bell shaped flare are tone holes and 2 small holes to help with the very high notes.

To the disappointment of Adolpe Sax, at the instrument’s inauguration, the public were not impressed. It was the composer Hector Berlioz who was one of the first to praise the instrument and to write music for it, changing the tone for the saxophone ever since.

There are 5 varieties of saxophones; soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. These each have different pitches. A difficult aspect of playing the saxophones like other wind instruments is that to hold long notes, the musician typically has to resort to employing different techniques. The famous saxophonist Kenny G reportedly could hold a note for 45 minutes uninterrupted. He managed to do this by using circular breathing.

Famous saxophonists include Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, and Charlie Parker.