The Saxophone

Saxophones are popular with people of all ages.
The fingering is similar to that of the Clarinet and is a good follow-on or upgrade instrument. Saxophones come in a variety of sizes, the most popular being the Alto. Some adults like to start on the Tenor as it is rather larger then the Alto. The Alpha Saxophone, produced by Trevor James (the UK based instruments designers and suppliers), has recently become available and is suitable for children aged six and up. It is much lighter and has fewer keys.

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More information about the Saxophone

The Saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. It is usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The Saxophone was invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax in 1841. He wanted to create an instrument that would both be the most powerful and vocal of the woodwinds and the most adaptive of the brass, which would fill the then vacant middle ground between the two sections. He patented the sax in 1846 in two groups of seven instruments each, the series pitched in B♭ and E♭, designed for military bands and the series pitched in C and F. Each series consisted of instruments of various sizes in alternating transposition. Those pitched in B♭ and E♭, have proved extremely popular and most Saxophones encountered today are from this series. A few Saxophones remain from the series pitched in C and F designed for the orchestral music, though they were less popular and never gained a foothold in the orchestral world. However the C-melody was quite popular in the late 20's and early 30's as a parlor instrument, it never gained a legitimate standing. Instruments keyed in F are rare.
The Saxophone is one of the most versatile instruments in the world. Famous Saxophonists have been responsible for producing classical pieces and 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.

History

The Saxophone was invented in 1846, just fifty years after Mozart's death. It was invented by Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax who was an expert instrument maker and talented musician.
While still working at his father's instrument shop in Brussels, Sax began developing the Saxophone with the following objectives: -
  1. It should have the projection of a brass instrument
  2. It should have the agility of a woodwind instrument
  3. It should over blow at the octave, unlike the clarinet, which rises in pitch by a twelfth when overblown.

Prior to his work on the Saxophone, Sax had made several improvements to the bass clarinet including
  1. Improving its key work and acoustics and
  2. Extending its lower range.
He also had a solid history of improving instruments and a reputation as a master workman
He produced some of the finest specimens of flutes, clarinets, and the then popular ophicleide. He also learned to play the instruments because he had to test them when he made them. His experience with these instruments helped him to develop the skills and technologies he required to make the first Saxophones.
He became aware that there was a tonal disparity between strings and winds, as well as brasses and woodwinds. He noticed that the brasses were overpowering the woodwinds and the winds were overpowering the strings. He saw the need to come up with a new instrument that would create some form of balance between the three sections -brass, strings and woodwinds . The sound that he was seeking would lie between the clarinet's woodwind sound and the trumpet's brass tone. Sax combined the body of a brass instrument and the mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument and came up with the Saxophone.
The first Saxophone, a C bass, was displayed for the first time, in 1841, to the famous composer, Hector Berlioz. He was amazed at its versatility, unique tone, and control of dynamics. In 1842, Sax moved to Paris to introduce his new instrument to the rest of the world.
Having constructed Saxophones in several sizes, Sax applied for, and received, a 15-year patent for the instrument on June 28, 1846 The patent encompassed 14 versions of the fundamental design, split into two categories of seven instruments. They included the E flat Sopranino, F Sopranino, B flat Soprano, C Soprano, E flat Alto, F Alto, B flat Tenor, C Tenor, E flat Baritone, B flat Bass, C Bass, E flat Contrabass, and F Contrabass. Each instrument differed by size and pitch.
The Saxophone became known as an integral part of all bands in 1845. This is the year of the famous "battle of the bands". The French Army band was still using "traditional" instrumentation. Sax saw this as an opportunity to show the world how the Saxophone could improve the tonal quality in all bands. He suggested a contest between an army band composed of the original orchestral instrumentation against a band with an instrumentation that included Saxophones. Sax's band of twenty-eight men, compared to the French Army band of thirty-five, overwhelmed the crowd. That day, the Saxophone was officially introduced into the French Army Band and soon to all other bands.
Sax's patent expired in 1866 thereafter; numerous Saxophonists and instrument manufacturers implemented their own improvements to the design and keywork. The first substantial modification was by a French manufacturer who extended the bell slightly and added an extra key to extend the range downwards by one semitone to B♭. It is suspected that Adolphe Sax himself may have attempted this modification. This extension was adopted into almost all modern designs.
Sax's original keywork, which was based on the Triebert system 3 oboe for the left hand and the Boehm clarinet for the right, was very simplistic and made playing some legato passages and wide intervals extremely difficult to finger, so numerous developers added extra keys and alternate fingerings to make chromatic playing less difficult.
While the early Saxophone had two separate octave vents to assist in the playing of the upper registers just as modern instruments do, players of Sax's original design had to operate these via two separate octave keys operated by the left thumb. A substantial advancement in Saxophone keywork was the development of a method by which both tone holes are operated by a single octave key by the left thumb which is now universal on all modern Saxophones. One of the most radical, however temporary, revisions of Saxophone keywork was made in the 1950s by M. Houvenaghel of Paris, who completely redeveloped the mechanics of the system to allow a number of notes to be flattened by a semitone simply by lowering the right middle finger. This enables a chromatic scale to be played over two octaves simply by playing the diatonic scale combined with alternately raising and lowering this one digit. However, this keywork never gained much popularity, and is no longer in use.
The Saxophone really spiked in popularity as the result of its use in jazz. Jazz musicians first began turning to the instrument around World War I and in the years immediately following and into the 1920s the instrument really came into its own. By the 1930s the Saxophone was routinely being used as the lead instrument in many jazz compositions and some of the biggest name in the genre were found behind this horn, including such legends as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie "Bird' Parker and John Coltrane.
The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the rise of rock and roll music, and the Saxophone became one of the its greatest weapons, along with the electric guitar and drums. The Sax has proved to be incredibly adaptable, and today, it is known to be one of the most versatile instruments in most music genres and bands.


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Description

The Saxophone is made up of a quasi conical tube of thin metal, most commonly brass and sometimes plated with silver, gold, and nickel, flared at the tip to form a bell. At intervals along the tube are between 20 and 23 tone holes of varying size, including two very small 'Speaker' holes to assist the playing of the upper register. These holes are covered by keys (also called pad cups) containing soft leather pads, which are closed to produce an airtight seal. At rest some of the holes stand open and others are closed. The keys are controlled by buttons pressed by the fingers, while the right thumb sits under a thumb rest to help keep the Saxophone balanced. The fingering for the Saxophone is a mixture of that of the oboe with the Boehm system, and is very similar to the flute or the upper register of the clarinet.
The simplest design of Saxophone is a straight conical tube. The Sopranino and Soprano Saxophones are usually of this straight design. However, as the lower-pitched instruments would be unacceptably long if straight, for ergonomic reasons, the larger instruments usually incorporate a U-bend at, or slightly above, the third-lowest tone hole. As this would cause the bell of the instrument to point almost directly upward, the end of the instrument is either angled/ tilted slightly forward. This U-shape has become an iconic feature of the Saxophone family, to the extent that soprano and even Sopranino Saxophones are sometimes made in the curved style, even though not strictly necessary.
By contrast, tenors and even baritones have occasionally been made in the straight style. Most commonly, however, the alto and tenor Saxophones incorporate a curved 'crook' above the highest tone hole but below the top speaker hole, tilting the mouthpiece through 90 degrees; the baritone, bass and contrabass extend the length of the bore by triple-folding this section.

Saxophone Mouthpiece and Reed

The Saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the Clarinet. Most Saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo Dona cane, but since the 20th century some have also been made of fibreglass and other composite materials. Reeds made from composite materials are more durable, and generally produce a brighter tone that is noticeably different from reeds made from cane, and are, therefore, generally considered to produce tone that is less desirable than the tone produced from a cane reed. 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 embouchure and a Clarinet embouchure is that the Saxophone mouthpiece should enter the mouth at a much lower or flatter angle than the Clarinet.
The embouchure for a Clarinet must also be more firm than that for a Saxophone. The muscles in the lip and jaw will develop naturally the more one plays, and the "long tones" exercise helps a great deal with this aspect of playing. Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including vulcanized rubber, plastic, and metals such as bronze or surgical steel. Less common materials that have been used include wood, glass, crystal, porcelain, and even bone.
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 favoured by some Saxophonists 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 favoured by many jazz and funk players. Most skilled Saxophonists settle on a mouthpiece somewhere between these extremes regardless of their musical styles 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, Bass, 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 (hardness) and material to find which strength and cut suits his or her mouthpiece, embouchure, tendencies, and playing style.

Saxophone Accessories

Cases

Saxophone instrument cases serve as essential protection and covering for Saxophones during transportation and/or storage. Some cases provide protection from weather changes or environments that may be hazardous to the instrument. Usually, purchased Saxophones come with factory cases that are manufactured or distributed by the Saxophone company. There are also companies that offer travelling cases that are light weight, durable, and economically efficient. This especially matters when travelling with larger instruments such as the baritone Saxophone.

Shoulder Strap

A comfortable shoulder Strap might not seem like an important accessory, but by using it properly you reduce the fatigue of playing the Saxophone and your music sounds better. It is designed to fit around the neck and is equipped with a hook for attaching to the back of the Sax. The strap can be adjusted so that the instrument can be played in an upright position without strain, the weight of the sax should be borne by the back of the neck. When choosing Saxophone straps, a feature to look for is an adjustment mechanism that is quick and easy to operate.

Harness

People who play heavy instruments such as the big Saxophones can suffer from back and neck injuries if the weight of the instrument is not supported properly. A good quality Saxophone harness will help avoid these injuries.
Also called a "Sling," a Sax harness is often made with a certain amount of stretch. Some music teachers warn that the elastic used in these straps and harnesses can make playing more difficult because the instrument can bounce. This seems to be an individual matter and the built in stretch is certainly a comfort factor. The harness should also be completely adjustable so that you can get the best possible fit.

Mouthpiece

Reeds and Mouthpieces are among the most important Saxophone accessories, having a direct and noticeable effect on the way your music sounds like.
There is a large variety of Saxophone mouthpieces on the market, and choosing one can often be quite a time consuming task. From beginner to professional, having the right mouthpiece is essential if you want your Saxophone music to come out right.
There are four main mouthpiece types, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone. Each different playing style requires you to adapt a suitable mouthpiece to the Saxophone. Though the differences between the Soprano and Baritone Sax mouthpieces might not be very visible, they are obvious when attached to the Saxophone. Higher notes can be achieved by using a Soprano mouthpiece and lower notes by using a Baritone.
Choosing Saxophone mouthpieces should be based on your personal experience. There is no perfect choice that will be true for all Sax players. Some favour a certain type of mouthpiece, different thickness, manufacturing material or even age. Try several and see which one feels most comfortable with you.
Your chosen mouthpiece should allow you to achieve the best possible sound with the least amount of effort. In time, a few of your mouthpieces will become your favourite.
A useful strategy is to try out a number of mouthpieces in a shop, narrow them down to a few, and then take them home to try out. In that case, you ensure that you have several different reeds to try.

Reed

Reeds are made from cane and have a structure that is thick at the bottom and thin at the top. They are located on the mouthpiece and secured with a ligature which is a metallic band that holds the Reed to the instrument. The Reed acts as an airflow regulator, enabling the sax player to control the rhythm of the sounds produced.
Since the Reed needs to be wet in order for the sound to come out right, many Sax players will wet the reed a long time before the actual performance.
This choice of Reed is very subjective and a matter of individual taste. There are several aspects related to durability, tone and sound quality that should be considered. Thinner Reeds are favoured by a large number of Saxophonists as they produce better vibration, thus giving them more control over the accuracy of the music.
The cane from which the Saxophone Reeds are made of decays in time, so keeping a set of reeds handy is a good idea.
The thinner the reed the more likelihood it has of cracking therefore a balance has to be found between the thickness of the Reed and its ability to produce melodious sounds.

Ligature

The ligature is the device which holds a Reed on to the mouthpiece of Single-Reed instruments such as a Saxophone or Clarinet. The ligature must allow the Reed to vibrate freely without stifling its vibrations. String is still used by some Clarinettists, especially in Germany. Modern German mouthpieces have a groove cut into the outside of the mouthpiece to facilitate wrapping with a string ligature. Some modern clarinettists tie a shoestring around the mouthpiece to use as a ligature instead of a string because it is easier to tie.
A ligature must be placed properly in order to best help performance on a Reed instrument. The ligature must be slid down to where it is halfway down the thick part of the Reed and the screws must not be done too tightly
Ligatures are most commonly made out of metal and plated in nickel, silver, or gold. Some ligatures have rounded metal plates on the screws inside the band which wraps around the mouthpiece, giving the Reed a place to lay evenly against without damaging the cane.
Ligatures are also made out of wire, wire mesh, plastic, naugahyde, string, or leather. Dozens of styles and materials of ligatures are available.

Neck

The Saxophone Neck is the small piece that fits between the body of the horn and the mouthpiece. They are not one size fits all, so you will have to locate a neck of the right brand and type. The neck is integral to tuning the Saxophone, so the cork that holds it tight has to have cork grease applied frequently. One tip for making these joints fit tightly and smoothly is to wrap the cork with the Teflon tape used by plumbers. This is a slick thin tape that stretches around a plumbing joint to help the threads turn smoothly while making the joint water tight. The tape can do the same thing for a Saxophone Neck, making it easy to turn and air tight.
When a repairman restores a vintage Sax, he sometimes has to straighten a bend in the Neck. Over time it is possible for the Neck to bend some because of the stress of the embouchure and the pull of the Neck strap. Restoration usually also involves replacing the cork on the Neck, sometimes with synthetic substitutes for natural cork.

Pads

Saxophone pads are made of cork, leather, or a similar synthetic material and are positioned under each of the many keys. Normally, these pads are replaced anytime the is restored. In addition to replacing these pads, the keys will be tightened up so that they seal the holes more completely. A good Sax repair person will guarantee that the Sax will play as good as new or better when the pads are restored. The process of replacing pads on a Saxophone is referred to as a repad job.

Stand

Sax stands come in a variety of styles depending on the needs of the sax player. Most feature padding to protect the parts of the sax that will rest against the stand. In addition, most are collapsible, making them easily portable for taking to concerts and gigs. Special carrying cases can be used for toting your Saxophone stand.
Since many sax players also play the flute or the clarinet from time to time, sometimes a Saxophone stand is equipped with pegs for storing these other instruments as well. Some stands are made to hold both an alto and a tenor sax. The main features to look for are stability and ease of transport.


 

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