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What are the different kinds of saxophones?

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January 12, 2011 3:26AM

(In random order) There is the





Sopranissimo (Soprillo),

Mezzo Soprano,







Slide Saxophone,

C Melody,

and Subcontrabass

(There are a lot more because several of these can either be straight or curved(Soprillo, Sopranino, Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Baritone), and because they all come in many different keys.


The soprano can come in straight or curved models. Most new sopranos are made straight or straight with a slight bend in the neck, bell or both. However, there are curved sopranos too. Curved sopranos were more common during the thirties and look like miniature altos. Curved horns tend to have a richer, more saxophone-like sound, while straight horns have a more oboe-like quality. Straight horns typically have better intonation than some of their curved counterparts. The soprano is in the key of B flat, one full octave higher than the tenor.

The soprano is a highly enchanting instrument with an etherial sound and an intoxicating feel for the player. Unfortunately, it's also generally accepted as the most difficult saxophone to learn and master, and is not recommended for beginning players. Intonation is a big issue - it requires an extremely precise embouchure and tons of practice time. The soprano is most commonly used in jazz and has a limited classical repetoire available. The soprano is, however, a great deal of fun to play.


The alto is a medium sized saxophone and is the most commonly played size. Most beginners start with alto due to its comfortable size and shape. The alto is the most recommended horn for those just starting on the saxophone. It is curved in a backwards "J" shape but can sometimes come in a straight model with a slightly tipped bell. The alto is in the key of E flat. Because of the smaller mouthpiece size, the alto doesn't allow as much personalization of the sound. However, it's a powerful horn with an incredible tone, and can't be beat for certain styles of music.

There is a good amount of classical repetoire available for the alto, including works by the composers Glazunov, Ibert and Hindemith.


The tenor saxophone is slightly larger than the alto with a small bend in the neck. The tenor is in the key of B flat. It is a very versatile saxophone, largely because the relatively large mouthpiece allows a great range of timbers or variations in tone quality. The tenor has longer rods than the alto, and larger tone holes.

Be warned. Due to the shape and length of the neck, neck damage is fairly common.

The tenor is usually personified as a jazz saxophone, even though there are some excellent applications in classical music. A well-developed embouchure can produce a breathy, whispering sound on ballads, a fat resonant tone for swing tunes, and a growling rock 'n roll sound all on the same instrument.


The baritone saxophone is the largest of the "regular" saxophone family and comes with and without an extension on the end of the horn. This extension allows the baritone player to play a low "A", exceeding the standard written range of the saxophone by one half-step. Consequently, a horn with this extension is called a "low A" Baritone, as opposed to a "B flat Baritone."

The baritone is unfortunately the most abused of the common saxophone family due to its size and weight. Bari's can suffer from a whole host of problems including rod damage, tone hole damage, large dents, and body twists. When purchasing a baritone, having a friend at a music shop can be a great help. As with a car, sometimes there are problems lurking in unexpected places. Also, the bari can be prone to severe intonation problems, especially in the highest and lowest registers.


The sopranissimo or soprillo saxophone is the smallest member of the saxophone family. It is pitched in B♭, one octave above the soprano saxophone, although the keywork only extends to a written high E♭ rather than F. Due to its small size, the upper octave key has to be placed in the mouthpiece. It is difficult to build an instrument so small, and only recently has a true sopranissimo saxophone been produced. The soprillo is 12 inches in length (13 inches with the mouthpiece).

Because it is so small and requires such a small and focused embouchure, the soprillo is difficult to play, particularly in its upper register. Additionally, the market demand for soprillos is comparatively small, so the economy of scale is reduced, thereby making a soprillo more expensive relative to other, larger saxophones such as the alto or tenor.