10 Types of Saxophones

Saxophones come in different sizes and shapes, but let’s not limit our saxual understanding to just the famous four – the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Here 10 are types that contribute to the instrument’s captivating diversity.

With its iconic reed vibration and finger-press melody magic, the saxophone hits the sweet spot between accessibility and complexity. So, whether you’re a seasoned saxophonist or a curious newbie, get ready to explore the intriguing lineup of ten types of saxophones.

1. Sopranino Saxophone

With a mere length of 46 centimeters, the Sopranino Saxophone packs a considerable musical punch. It’s generally not curved due to its compact size, with an exception being its variant – the Orsi.

The Sopranino holds the record for reaching the highest pitch in the sax family, the E♭ or F, producing a notably expressive and inviting sound.

2. Soprano Saxophone

Next, the Soprano Saxophone, slightly bigger but still a small sax that swings both ways: curved and straight. It dances gracefully to the high-pitched key of B♭. The modern Sopranos come with a swappable neck, one straight and one curved.

The straight neck makes for a dazzling display, held outward and upward, while the curved one enables a more relaxed stance, perfect for long performances. Some saxophonists swear that the curved neck delivers a warmer, less nasal tone.

3. Alto Saxophone

Then there’s the Alto Saxophone, a favorite among musicians worldwide. Larger than the Soprano, it resonates with the key of E♭. This saxophone finds its place in an array of music genres, from popular music and chamber music to solo repertoires and jazz. Its curved structure delivers a soothing sound, making it a go-to choice for smooth jazz renditions.

4. Tenor Saxophone

The Tenor Saxophone is the medium-sized member of the sax family. It sings in B♭ and shines as a transposing instrument, sounding an octave and a major second lower than written.

Its larger mouthpiece, ligature, and reed give it a unique, bright, slightly husky tone. Harmonizing beautifully with its alto, baritone, and soprano siblings, the Tenor sax is all about playing well with others.

5. Baritone Saxophone

The Baritone saxophone is a large variant and its pitch is in the key of E♭. This large saxophone variant is known for its substantial size and use in funk and jazz music.

Its structure comprises a wide flared end resembling a bell and a single-reed mouthpiece at the smaller end. The Baritone’s upper body sports a loop with two U-shaped sections, giving it a distinctive silhouette.

6. Bass Saxophone

Taking us back to the origins, we have the Bass Saxophone. This big boy, the first-ever sax crafted by Adolph Sax in 1841, was originally tuned to high pitched C. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find it humming in B♭, an octave below its cousin, the Tenor.

Standing tall at a whopping 1.5 meters, its loop tubing doubles that of a Tenor. This gargantuan sax is a favorite in jazz, rock, and classical music.

7. C Melody Saxophone

This instrument is non-transposing and naturally plays in the key of C. Scaled to play along with piano, violin, or flute, this sax measures 24 inches from socket to body tube tip. While it’s less common nowadays, the C Melody Saxophone had its golden era from the 1910s to the 1920s.

8. Sopranissimo Saxophone

The smallest of the bunch, the Sopranissimo, is also fondly known as the piccolo or soprilino sax. This tiny sax measures just 33 centimeters including the mouthpiece.

It took the mid-2010s for technology to catch up with the Sopranissimo’s small size for accurate production. The key pitch for this sax is typically E♭ or G, and its octave key is conveniently located on the mouthpiece due to its compact size.

9. Contrabass Saxophone

Switching gears to the giant Contrabass Saxophone, standing tall at 1.9 meters and weighing 20 kilograms. This saxophone uses the key pitch of E♭, one octave below the Baritone. The large body and wide bore result in a rich tone and robust sound, making it a versatile instrument with a broad sound range.

10. Subcontrabass Saxophone

Last up, the legend that is the Subcontrabass Saxophone. Originally planned and patented by Adolph Sax, this saxophone never saw the light of day under his craftsmanship. Designed to hit the pitch of B♭, an octave lower than the Bass saxophone, this instrument intrigued manufacturers like J’Elle Stainer and Benedikt Eppelsheim, who each created their own versions. The tallest variant measures an astounding 2.8 meters in height.

Final Thoughts

Indeed, saxophones are a captivating fusion of challenge and delight, a testament to human ingenuity in the world of music. Each variant, with its unique characteristics and range, contributes to the sonic tapestry that these beautiful instruments weave.

So, whether you’re cradling a small Sopranissimo or wrestling with a hefty Contrabass, the saxophone’s ability to stir the soul and color our musical landscapes remains unrivaled.

Image Credits:
Sopranino Saxophone Image by: Museum of Making Music, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Soprano Saxophone Image by: Yamaha Corporation, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Alto Saxophone Image by: File:Yamaha Saxophone YAS-62.tif: Yamaha Corporation;remove backround: Habitator terrae (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Habitator_terrae), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tenor Saxophone Image by: Yamaha Corporation, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Baritone Saxophone Image by: Sylenius, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bass Saxophone Image by: MetroidPrime3 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
C Melody Saxophone Image by: Museum of Making Music, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Sopranissimo Saxophone Image by: Museum of Making Music, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Contrabass Saxophone Image by: Museum of Making Music, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Subcontrabass Saxophone Image by: TAWhite, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons