About the Saxophone

Invention and History

Saxophone in Music

Playing the Saxophone




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The Parts of the Saxophone


by David DeJesus

The saxophone is one of the most unique and versatile wind instruments of all time. Although it was originally envisioned as a classical and military instrument, it has since made its way into almost every genre of music around the world from pop and rock to jazz, classical, and the avant garde. It can sound smooth and sultry or raucous and soulful. You can find it seamlessly blending into any ensemble whether it be a jazz big band or an orchestra, or you can find it out front playing solos in a rock band or a jazz quartet. Even today musicians around the world are pushing the boundaries of what the saxophone can do and what types of music it can be incorporated into.


The saxophone is a conical bore woodwind instrument, meaning that it starts out at one diameter and gets wider and wider as you reach the bottom end of the instrument. A cylindrical instrument like the clarinet, by contrast, stays the same diameter throughout the entire length of the instrument. Conical bore instruments are generally known to have warmer and mellower tone qualities than their cylindrical counterparts. Generally made of brass, they have occasionally been constructed of silver and gold, even plastic. The key-work consists of metal buttons (or keys) attached to leather pads which when pressed cover strategically placed tone holes. Pressing different combinations of these keys results in different pitches and sometimes even sound effects like growling and screeching. The saxophone also utilizes a mouthpiece and single reed which is similar to a clarinet but has different angles resulting in a very different embouchure than the clarinet, the embouchure be the collection of muscles around and including the lips that we use to wrap around the mouthpiece and create a sound.

Q & A

If the saxophone is usually made of brass, why is it considered a woodwind instrument?

It's all about how the sound is produced! With brass instruments like the trumpet or trombone, sound is made by the player's lips vibrating against a mouthpiece, and notes are changed by pressing on valves. A saxophone, like many woodwind instruments, uses a reed to direct air into the instrument. It is this air that creates the sound, and notes are changed by pressing keys to open and close holes. Want to see for yourself? Try blowing air into a trumpet, and you'll see that nothing happens. By the way, another example of a woodwind instrument that isn't made of wood is the flute.