Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The saxophone (also referred to simply as sax) is a conical-bored transposing musical instrument considered a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and are played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax in 1841, and patented in 1846 in two groups of seven instruments each. Each series consisted of instruments of various sizes in alternating transposition. The series pitched in B♭ and E♭, designed for military bands, has proved extremely popular and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. A few saxophones remain from the less popular orchestral series pitched in C and F. While proving very popular in its intended niche of military band music, the saxophone is most commonly associated with popular music, big band music, blues, early rock and roll, ska and particularly jazz. There is also a substantial repertoire of concert music in the classical idiom for the members of the saxophone family. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.


The saxophone was developed in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian-born instrument-maker, flautist and clarinetist working in Paris. While still working at his father's instrument shop in Brussels, Sax began developing an instrument which had the projection of a brass instrument with the mobility of a woodwind. Another priority was to create an instrument which, while similar to the clarinet, would overblow at the octave, unlike the clarinet, which rises in pitch by a twelfth when overblown; an instrument which overblew at the octave would have identical fingering for both registers. Prior to his work on the saxophone, Sax made several improvements to the bass clarinet by improving its keywork and acoustics and extending its lower range. Sax was also a maker of the then-popular ophicleide, a large conical brass instrument in the bass register with keys similar to a woodwind instrument. His experience with these two instruments allowed him to develop the skills and technologies needed to make the first saxophones. Adolph Sax created an instrument with a single reed mouthpiece like a clarinet, conical brass body like an ophicleide, and the acoustic properties of the flute.

Mouthpiece and reed

Two mouthpieces for tenor saxophone; the one on the left is rubber; the one on the right is Metal. The saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. Most saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo donax cane, but since the 20th century some have also been made of fiberglass. Fiberglass reeds are more durable, but are generally considered to produce an inferior tone. The saxophone mouthpiece is larger than that of the clarinet, has a wider inner chamber, and lacks the cork-covered tenon of a clarinet mouthpiece because the saxophone neck inserts into the mouthpiece whereas the clarinet mouthpiece piece is inserted into the barrel. The most important difference between a saxophone mouthpiece and a clarinet mouthpiece is that the saxophone mouthpiece should enter the mouth at a much lower or flatter angle than the clarinet. Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including vulcanized rubber (sometimes called rod rubber or ebonite), plastic, and metals such as bronze or surgical steel. Less common materials that have been used include wood, glass, crystal, porcelain, and even bone. According to Larry Teal, the mouthpiece material has little, if any, effect on the sound, and the physical dimensions give a mouthpiece its tone colour.[20] Mouthpieces with a concave ("excavated") chamber are more true to Adolphe Sax's original design; these provide a softer or less piercing tone, and are favored by some saxophonists, including students of Sigurd Raschèr, for classical playing. Conversely, mouthpieces with a smaller chamber or lower clearance above the reed, called high baffle, produce a brighter sound with maximum projection and are favored by many jazz and funk players. Most skilled saxophonists settle on a mouthpiece somewhere between these extremes regardless of their primary idiom and most that play both jazz and classical music have different equipment for each. Like clarinets, saxophones use a single reed. Saxophone reeds are proportioned slightly differently to clarinet reeds, being wider for the same length. Each size of saxophone (alto, tenor, etc.) uses a different size of reed. Reeds are commercially available in a vast array of brands, styles, and strengths. Each player experiments with reeds of different strength (hardnesses) and material to find which strength and cut suits his or her mouthpiece, embouchure tendencies and playing style.