Guide to the sounds of the saxophone family - with examples

Sounds of the Saxophone Family

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

The Saxophone family are made up of both high and low pitched saxophones. Here's a walk through that covers the sounds of the Saxophone Family, so that you can listen and hear the difference.

Brian Hayes demonstrate the different saxophone models.

The basic takeaway here is that:

  • Smaller saxophones – produce higher pitched saxophone sounds
  • Larger saxophones – produce lower pitched saxophone sounds

All saxophones share the same characteristics with the saxophone body, neck, mouthpiece, ligature and reed. Some are straight and some are curved, but besides that the main difference is the size of the saxophones, which affect the sound and pitch of each saxophone model.

The most common models in the saxophone family are the Soprano, Alto, Tenor and the Baritone saxophones.

However, here you will learn more about them and yet another model, the sopranino, which is a bit of a wildcard when it comes to the sax family.

There is actually a total of ten saxophone models in the saxophone family. However, as mentioned the main four saxophone models that are mostly used today are The Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax and the Bari Sax.

The Sopranino sax sound

The E-flat sopranino saxophone holds a special place in the saxophone family. Its pitch, notably higher than other variants, gives it an unmistakable character. This saxophone's sound is distinct, and its unique tonal qualities make it stand out from its siblings.

However, this is the least common saxophone among the five I've listed here. The sopranino sax has a straight bore but there's a rare curved version of the sopranino as well.

After playing the Sopranino myself I can tell you that this instrument comes with it's unique set of challenges. I've played the saxophone for well over 35 years and even for me this sax is a challenge to tame.

It is playability requires an advanced level of proficiency, particularly to play it in tune throughout. I'd say this is not for everyone and this is also the big reason it never made it into the top 4 saxophone models frequently used today.

The Soprano sax sound

Moving along the pitch spectrum, you have the B-flat soprano saxophone. Pitched similarly to the trumpet and clarinet, this saxophone holds an important place in various musical compositions. Both straight and curved versions of the soprano saxophone are equally popular, typically played in front of the player akin to a clarinet. The Soprano sax share the same key as the Tenor sax. They are both B-flat instruments.

The Alto sax sound

Taking yet another step to a deeper and lower-pitched saxophone, we have the E-flat Alto Saxophone. If you've ever heard a saxophone in a music piece, chances are it was the alto sax. This is also the type of saxophone that most beginner sax players start of with. The Alto sax share the same key as the Sopranino and Baritone saxophone. They are all E-flat instruments.

The Tenor sax sound

With the B-flat tenor saxophone we are moving into the deeper sounding saxophones. It has an iconic status within the jazz, blues, rock and roll, contemporary, and pop music genres is hard to overstate. It has a distinct sound that bring a unique depth and resonance to a multitude of compositions. The Tenor Sax share the same key as the soprano sax. They are both B-flat instruments.

The Baritone Sax sound

Finally, at the lower end of the pitch spectrum, we find the E-flat baritone saxophone. This instrument holds the position of the lowest pitched saxophone in the commonly used saxophone family. Besides sharing all the keys with the other saxophones, it also has a low A-key which is unique to the baritone saxophone.

Being one full octave lower than the alto saxophone and two full octaves lower than the sopranino saxophone, its rich, resonant tones add depth and complexity to any musical ensemble.

The Baritone sax share the same key as the Sopranino and Alto sax. They are all E-flat instruments.

Conclusion

In essence, the four most common saxophones that shape today's musical landscape are the B-flat soprano, E-flat Alto Sax, B-flat Tenor Sax and the E-flat Baritone saxophone.

Leaving us with the Sopranino Sax as the wildcard and less common of the saxes listed here. There is actually a total of 10 different saxophone models, which means there are more “less known” saxes to learn more about as well.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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learn saxophone teacher Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher and musician from Sweden.

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