The Most Common Types of Saxophones

Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Baritone

Grunge saxophone on music
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Since the saxophone was invented in the 1840s, many types, varying in tone and size, have been made. The sopranino, for example, measures just under two feet long while the contrabass is slightly longer than six feet: both are rare versions. Take a look at the most common saxophone types used today, which measure somewhere between the two extremes.

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Soprano Saxophone

Photo of SOPRANO SAXOPHONE and BRASS and SAXOPHONE
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The soprano saxophone, in the key of B flat, may either have a bell that curves upward or it can appear straight, looking similar to a clarinet (although in brass, not wooden like a clarinet). 

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. Embouchure issues for newbies may include some difficulty with the correct position of the lips, the shape of the mouth, the position of the tongue, and movement of the breath.

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Alto Saxophone

Jazz Saxophone Grunge
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The alto saxophone is medium-sized, just over two feet long, and is one of the most commonly played saxophones. If you are a beginner, the alto saxophone is perfect to start with. It is curved with a smaller mouthpiece and is in the key of E flat. The alto sax is commonly used in concert bands, chamber music, military bands, marching bands, and jazz bands.

 

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Tenor Saxophone

Tenor saxophone
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tenor saxophone is about a foot larger than an alto saxophone and is in the key of B flat. The mouthpiece is larger, and the rods and tone holes are longer. It is a transposing instrument, which means that it sounds an octave and major second lower than the written pitch.

A tenor sax has a deeper tone but can be played to sound bright. It is commonly used in jazz music. Its telltale signature is its small dip in the neck, unlike an alto sax which has a straight neck.

 

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Baritone Saxophone

a Bari Saxophone almost ready for rehearsal
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Among the four most common saxophones, the baritone saxophone is the largest. Also called a "bari sax," some models may or may not have an extension attached to the end of the horn. If it has an extension, it is called a low A baritone. Also a transposing instrument, the bari sax plays an octave lower than an alto sax.

The baritone saxophone is commonly used in classical music and played in concert band, chamber music, as well as military and jazz bands. However, the baritone saxophone is not a commonly used as a solo instrument or in marching bands. Due to its heft, the bari sax can weigh up to 35 pounds and is usually switched out of marching band for an alto or tenor sax. Also, due to its role in the band as another bass player, the bari sax helps maintain rhythm and rarely will have a solo part.

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Other Types

Set of Four Saxophones
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Rare types of saxophones include the sopranino, C melody, F mezzo, C soprano, bass, contrabass, Conn-O-Sax, and F baritone.