A saxophone for a child is a great starting point
for learning music. The saxophone is perhaps the most
widely heard solo instrument of the wind family in popular
and jazz music. It has a singing quality with a rich middle
register, commanding low register, and an exciting and colorful
Young saxophonists can enjoy performing in
many large ensembles including concert, jazz, and marching
bands as well as wind ensemble. Although not a regular member
of the orchestra woodwind section, orchestral composers occasionally
score for one or more saxophones, and sometimes incorporate
a saxophone quartet. There is also a good body of concerto
repertoire for the saxophone.
The study of the saxophone inevitably
involves learning soprano, alto, tenor and baritone. Most players,
however, choose to establish a recognizable solo voice on only
one of these. Additionally, saxophonists often double on clarinet
and flute in order to open up more opportunities for employment.
Invented in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax of Brussels,
Belgium, the saxophone is the most recently developed member
of the woodwind family. It is a hybrid instrument with a
key system based on the Boehm fingering system c.1832, as
is the case with the clarinet, oboe, and flute. The saxophone
has a conical bore like an oboe, a reed and mouthpiece like
a clarinet, and a metal body (brass) like the brass family
THE SAXOPHONE FAMILYTHE SAXOPHONE
1. Sopranino Eb
2. C Melody Soprano C
3. Soprano Bb
4. Alto Eb
5. C Melody C
6. Tenor Bb
7. Baritone Eb
8. Bass Bb
9. Contrabass Eb
10. Subcontrabass Bb
1, 3, 4, 6, 7, & 8 are most commonly used.
1 & 8 are used mainly in orchestral and wind ensemble
works, less so in jazz and commercial music. 2 & 5 were
used mostly in the earlier part of the 20th century for players
who did not wish to transpose. Piano or violin parts could
be read with greater ease, for instance.
Classical saxophonists include Marcel Mule, Guy Lacour, Daniel Duffayet,
Eugene Rousseau, Donald Sinta, and Fred Hemke. James Houlik is one of the
very few classical saxophonists whose specialty is the tenor saxophone.
In the jazz world, soprano saxophonists include
Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Jane Ira Bloom,
and Sam Newsome. Alto saxophonists include Benny Carter,
Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, Ornette
Coleman, Anthony Braxton and David Sanborn. Tenor saxophonists
include Lester Young, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins,
Dave Liebman, and Michael Brecker. Lastly, baritone saxophonists
include Harry Carney, Pepper Adams, Gary Smulyan, Gerry Mulligan,
and Cecil Payne.
The saxophone quartet is a popular ensemble
among both jazz and classical performers with a substantial
collection of repertoire available. Quartets provide a wonderful
learning experience for the developing saxophonist. Professional
quartets include The World Saxophone Quartet, The Amherst
Saxophone Quartet, The 29th Street Saxophone Quartet, and
IS THE SAXOPHONE DIFFICULT TO PLAY?
Unlike the flute and clarinet, the saxophone
is very accommodating in the early stages of musical development.
Within the standard range, notes respond easily, even with
the most undeveloped embouchure _ the position of the lips
in producing a tone _ and breathing technique. The saxophone
is not as prone to "squeak" like the clarinet or
sound airy and flat like the flute in the beginning. Soon
thereafter, however, much attention need be given to the
development of good posture, support, relaxation, hand position,
breathing, embouchure, articulation, and manual dexterity.
all of these components functioning independent of one another,
it should come as no surprise that the saxophone demands
a great deal of concentration, as is the case with all musical
Beginners often have difficulty producing the low notes or "bell
the high notes or "palm keys." The extended range or "altissimo
register" should not be explored until the player has a firm grasp of
proper breathing, embouchure, and tone production.
Essential to learning any
instrument is development of the inner ear, or aural perception of sound.
Having a reference in one's inner ear as to what to strive for in terms
of tone and interpretation can be the most important motivation
for any player. Having an aural reference such as a CD recording
or concert performance, like a picture, is worth a thousand
Daily adjustments made through trial and error
in order to improve embouchure, breathing and articulation
are often motivated simply by a sound or aural image in one's
mind. It is therefore imperative that the developing player
listen to and watch as many masters of the saxophone as
possible in order to make progress.
BUYING YOUR FIRST INSTRUMENT
The traditional starting place for the beginning
saxophonist is with the alto saxophone. This is in part due
to the fact that that vast majority of classical saxophone
literature is written for the alto. Additionally, the alto
requires slightly less air than does the tenor, and the smaller
key scale often fits more comfortably in a young person's
Further, the angle of air flow as well as the
embouchure required to play alto is very much transferable
to all of the saxophones. These points do not, however, preclude
a beginner from starting on tenor or baritone saxophone.
With proper guidance, repertoire and technique can be adapted
to all of the saxophones.
Consult your local music store,
school music teacher, or private teacher for suggestions
on which brands and models to try. See if your private
teacher would mind trying out a few instruments on your
STUDENT, INTERMEDIATE, AND PROFESSIONAL
Generally, student horns play well, but lack
features and craftsmanship of professional instruments. As
you move from a student horn to an intermediate horn and
then finally to a professional instrument, major differences
will become apparent.
A great deal of effort has been taken by many
manufacturers to produce student instruments that are both
affordable and musically satisfying to play. Most student
horns produce a pleasant tone with considerable ease and
feel relatively comfortable in the beginner's hands. In the
case of a younger student, check to make sure that he or
she does not have difficulty closing keys, especially the "spatula" keys.
student horn is a good way to go if you or your child's
commitment is questionable. After three or four years of
good use, a move to a better instrument can be made, possibly
facilitated at least in part by a trade-in of your student
As you can imagine, the intermediate horn is
a little easier on the pocketbook, yet it has some features
that resemble a professional horn. The key work feels similar
that of a professional horn, yet it may not produce quite
the same quality of tone. Intermediate horns usually lack
the hand work found on professional models
Response, intonation, and tone quality are
greatly improved with a professional instrument. Great care
is taken in designing the tube through experimentation with
different metal alloys, their weight and thickness.
and placement of tone holes and posts is given much consideration,
using silver solder in many cases. Adjustment screws and
adjustable felt bumpers are also included on professional
horns. Much more hand work is done as is the case with
hand-hammered keys and hand-engraving. Also, choices with
respect to finish become available.
These include clear or
colored lacquer, and silver and gold plating. Professional
horns in general, feel more comfortable and substantial
in one's hands. Finally, the resale value of a professional
horn usually is quite satisfactory.
LACQUER VS. PLATING
The standard finish for a saxophone is clear
lacquer, however, different colored lacquers are now available.
The color of the lacquer does not significantly affect the
sound, but plating can. Silver-plated instruments, purchased
for the most part by military and marching bands, produce
a slightly brighter tone than lacquered horns. Gold-plated
horns have a warm, heavy sound and can cost considerably
NEW VS. USED
A used saxophone is a viable option to purchasing
a new instrument. For a similar amount of money, a jump can
be made from a new intermediate instrument to a used professional
instrument, for instance. Be sure to check the used instrument
for dents (recent and repaired)and re-soldering, as well
as the condition of the pads. The pads should feel soft and
appear to fill up the key cup to its edges. Also, ask if
the horn has been re-lacquered. A re-lacquered horn is not
necessarily a bad thing if you are happy with it. It could,
however, affect the resale value of the instrument down the
road. You might find used student horns at your local music
store, perhaps an instrument that was rented out for the
school year. Often, both used instrument dealers and local
music stores offer a basic warranty with the purchase of
a used instrument.
PICKING A MOUTHPIECE, LIGATURE, AND REED
Beginners should start on a hard rubber mouthpiece
with a small tip opening and low baffle. After deciding on
a mouthpiece, try out some ligatures. Look for one that holds
the reed in place while not compressing it at the sides.
A "reverse" ligature, one with the screws on top
is best. It is important to pick a good-quality reed, since
it is the reed which triggers the vibration of sound within
the instrument. Beginning students are, however, often careless
with their reeds, so reed care accessories are recommended.
Teaching a beginner to simply put the mouthpiece cap on will
prevent destruction of the reed, not to mention the mouthpiece.
A sturdy neck strap or harness is a must. For
reed care, a reed case, knife, trimmer, and re-surfacer are
most helpful. A mouthpiece pouch protects the mouthpiece
while in the case. A swab is good for keeping the tube clean.
A music stand, method books, and a good selection of CDs
will get things started. Click here for accessories.
WHERE TO BUY
There are a few options available when purchasing
a saxophone: your local music store, a mail-order service,
or private party selling a secondhand instrument. Each has
its benefits, but important things to consider are price,
quality, and service. Improper maintenance and accidents
can lead to potential problems, such as damaging dents and
dings which can affect more than just the looks of the instrument.
You may want to choose a music store with a repair person
on-site or, if you purchase from a mail-order service, it
would be wise to have a repair shop available to you locally.
Reprinted with permission of School Band
and Orchestra Magazine
Article written by Ralph Bowen
Please visit them at www.sbomagazine.com