A saxophone is a moderately new invention compared to many other ancient instruments out there. This is one of the most popular and sophisticated instruments that was invented by a Belgian musician named Adolphe Sax in 1846. The saxophone is a part of the woodwind instrument family and it's quite similar to the clarinet as it's played with a single-reed mouthpiece.
Adolphe Sax was a musical visionary who received formal education on music. During his study period at Brussels Conservatory of Music, he deeply studied brass and woodwind instruments. Eventually, Sax's experiment with brass clarinet leads him to design the saxophone.
You will be surprised to know that the initial patent recorded 14 different types of saxophones divides into two groups from F contrabass to E sopranino. However, the construction of modern-day saxophone is a bit different than the initial version.
What are Saxophones Made of :
The primary component that’s used in the production of a saxophone is brass. Brass is a composite alloy that is a combination of copper, nickel, zinc, and tin. All of these metals are used in creating brass that’s used in creating many woodwind instruments.
Yellow brass is generally used the most for creating saxophones. It has a copper ratio of 70% and a zinc ratio of 30% that creates a unique blend that's highly suitable for the construction of the instrument. Gold brass and silver brass saxophones are also used by many sax artist. However, the price is on the steeper side for these.
The mouthpiece of the saxophone is commonly made with hard rubber or ebonite. However, metal and glass mouthpieces are quite popular among the players as well. Sax artists use the instrument for years so the screws are made with stainless steel and sometimes wax is applied to them in a smooth condition.
Common Materials Used to Make a Saxophone
Brass is a go-to favorite for many manufacturers due to its tonal flexibility, malleability, and robustness. Brass can be pushed in a different tonal direction that gives the player the ultimate flexibility. The quality of the brass mix along with horn construction has a greater impact on the pricing of the instrument.
The beginner level saxophones are made with yellow brass that has a consistency of 70% copper and 30% zinc. This gives out a tighter and brighter timbre. On the other hand, gold brass is quite on the pricier side and they're a better suit for the professional players. Gold brass has the consistency of 80% copper and 20% zinc.
Red brass has a copper content of 85% and a zinc content of 15%. The extra copper content enables the material to resonate freely and gives out a richer broader tone. The color of the horn can slightly vary due to the changes in copper content.
You’re probably thinking that silver plate is all about the finish, not a material required for the construction of the sax. Many people have this misconception that there will be no notable changes due to the material used for the finish.
While making the sax, manufacturers electroplate the silver onto the brass. This makes it a part of the material rather than just being a layer on top. As you add the silver to the brass, it adds up to the weight of the horn that makes the metal to resonate slower and give out a richmellow sound output.
Also, the added weight will give the instrument more resistance and add up to the aesthetic beauty of it. You don't need to take any extra care for the saxophones that are made with silver plate. You can follow the regular maintenance procedure that is followed for other brass saxophones out there.
Even though the name contains silver, nickel silver is not a part of the silver family. Rather it’s an off-set of brass. Nickel silver is highly dense and they respond differently compared to bronze and silver. They generate a louder tone compared to brass saxophones and nickel silver has a higher resonance. Saxophones made with nickel silver is a great choice for musicians who’re funky rock n roll music.
Solid silver has unique characteristics that make it a highly demandable material for making musical instruments. Silver is a highly dense and soft material. It has a super high resonance that gives out a thick full sound with plenty of warmth in it. Also, it has a fair amount of resistance that enables the player to explore the tonal range of various kinds. However, it's quite expensive and more suitable for advanced level players.
Bronze is one of the most popular choices of saxophone materials apart from brass. These saxophones come at a budget-friendly price and offer a significantly higher resonance compared to brass. The higher resonance will help you explore various tones as well as styles of music. This material is more popular among baritone and soprano saxophones compared to the other types.
Different components of the saxophone are made with different materials. When you mix them up together, they will eventually give out a striking visual as well as tonal accuracy. The most common metals that are used in making the saxophone are brass, silver, and bronze. However, keep in mind that the price of the instrument will hike up considering the type of metal used in the mixture. Silver and gold have scare resources so the price will be on the steeper side of the mixed metal contain any of these.
Types of Saxophones
Initially, Adolphe Sax came up with 14 types of saxophones. In the current time, six main types of saxophones are commonly used by the players. Their construction, design and prices vary among the types. Saxophone bodies are traditionally made with brass, copper, bronze, or nickel. However, the manufacturers are constantly experimenting with plastic and even carbon fiber to create a better version of the instrument.
The soprano is a B flat (Bb) instrument that’s known to be the hardest to play. This one is the smallest of the six main categories and it has the highest pitch among all. The higher pitch makes a more favorable option for the jazz players. The shape of the instrument comes in both flat and curved design depending on the manufacturer. Since the soprano is quite hard to master, it’s mostly recommended for the professional players.
Alto saxophones are one of the most popular types of saxophones out there. It's highly popular among beginners as it's easier to master and helps to enhance their skillsets. Most saxophonists start their journey with alto saxophone and move gradually to the other types. Since the fingering style is similar across all types, they can easily transfer to other kinds of saxophones after mastering the techniques on this one.
It has a small dimension with a small mouthpiece that helps the player to easily learn the techniques. It’s pitched at E flat and it’s quite popular among the jazz players. The role of alto saxophones in classical music is quite limited, however, many prominent players have contributed significantly with the alto saxophones.
Tenor saxophones are built half an octave lower compared to alto saxophones. It’s pitched at B flat which means a written C for the tenor sounds like a B flat. It's a medium-sized instrument in the saxophone family that is adored by both beginners and advanced level players.
These saxophones have a larger reed and mouthpiece compared to soprano and alto saxophones. The crook or its curve near the neck makes it easier to distinguish among other variants. The tenor saxophone plays an important part as the solo instrument in jazz music.
Baritone saxophones are on the larger dimension of the group. The “bari sax" is quite similar to alto saxophone and the only difference is it's almost twice bigger. It also has an octave lower the alto saxophones.
It’s a versatile instrument that can play both high and low notes with equal perfection. However, due to its large size, weight, and the air required to deliver the sound, it's a lot less popular than the other types. It's mostly used to jazz solos that require a deep bass sound to bring out the depth of the music.
This one has a straight design like the soprano saxophones, however, it’s noticeably smaller than a standard soprano. They have small and light build like a clarinet, therefore, you’ll not even require a strap to hold onto it. It’s an E flat instrument that’s pitched an octave higher than the alto saxophones. The sopranino is a funky instrument that feels quite contemporary as you play.
The last one on the list is the extremely large contrabass saxophone. It has almost twice the size of a baritone saxophone and weighs super heavy as well. It delivers the second-lowest pitch in the saxophone family. It is pitched at E flat which is an octave higher than the baritone saxophone. Due to its large body size, it gives out a rich mellow sound output and offers a great acoustical presence.
Difference between Classical Saxophone and Jazz Saxophone
A saxophone is a versatile instrument that’s loved by both Classical and Jazz players. However, the construction of the instrument is different for each game. Both of them have their own uniqueness so that players with different genres can choose the right one for their preferred music style. One of the most significant differences between jazz and classical saxophone is the difference in their sound.
The saxophone has become an integral part of Jazz music over time. Saxophone achieved immense popularity at the end of the 19th century in both Europe and America. Classical saxophone started getting popular around the beginning of the 20th century.
However, if a player wants to learn a particular kind of saxophone, then he/she should be well aware of the differences and have a keen ear to spot the differences separately.
The mouthpiece of the instrument is a crucial component of the instrument. The combination of the material, height, and chamber size has a strong effect on the timber. Jazz musicians have a vast range of choices from which they can choose that delivers the ideal sound. The choice for mouthpiece is quite less for classical saxophones compared to jazz ones. However, the mouthpiece should allow the player to have clear and crisp sound with quick tonguing and control of dynamics.
The difference between a jazz embouchure and classical embouchure is the difference is the position of the lower lip. For jazz music, the lower lip is turned slightly outside so that the reed remains more exposed to the mouth to create a brighter sound. Also, for jazz musicians, the embouchure is more flexible as they can adjust their embouchure as they move from one register to another to get different sound effects.
The embouchure is the combination of lips, jaw, teeth, and facial movements while playing the instrument. It’s a highly important aspect of playing the instrument as it differs for different genres. While playing classical saxophones, the lower lip is slightly curved over the lower teeth.
Vibrato is a device that is used by saxophone players across all genres. Vibrato can be used in different ways. Jazz players tend to have the vibrato around the end of the note to generate an intense speed and pitch. On the other hand, classical music players have a more controlled and continuous vibrato.
Along with the materials used in making the saxophone, we have also included multiple other vital aspects. That’s why we need to know how to clean the saxophone properly. Some may ask, does the material really make a difference? We need to take a subjective stand here because the sound output relies quite a lot on the player and his/her skills. However, the material of the sax does have an impact on the quality of the sound.
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