Different types of saxophones

Different Types of Saxophones

9 minutes

The saxophone is one of the most popular wind instruments in the world, with its iconic design and characteristic sound that can be heard everywhere from jazz clubs and orchestral concerts to the pop charts.

Budding saxophonists might know that there are a few different types of saxophones out there, so how to know which one to choose?

History of the saxophone

The saxophone was invented by Belgian instrument maker inventor Adolphe Sax in 1846.

Sax’s idea was to combine the power of brass instruments with the agility and speed that was possible on woodwind instruments. He had them in mind for marching bands and military bands. He designed a cone-shaped brass body for added volume, added keys that gave it the agility of the flute, and a mouthpiece and reed setup very similar to the clarinet.

He originally created seven different sizes of saxophone, ranging from the high sopranino down to the huge contrabass saxophone. The most popular however were the middle four instruments; the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, which have been used in numerous styles of music, and are still in mass production today. They are commonly found in jazz bands and concert bands, as well as chamber music (such as saxophone quartets), and occasionally in an orchestra.

Adolphe Sax

Anatomy of the saxophone

All saxophones have three main components: the body, the neck (or crook), and the mouthpiece/reed.

The reed is a thin piece of cane, which is attached to the mouthpiece with a metal (sometimes leather) cylinder called the ligature.

Breathing in and then blowing into the mouthpiece causes the reed to vibrate, creating a sound wave.

The neck connects the mouthpiece to the body, which is basically just a metal tube with holes in it.

Most saxophones have a bend about two thirds of the way down, and the bottom section of the tube (the ‘bell’) points upwards again.

Each hole in the body has a key over it. The keys allow the saxophonist to close and seal different holes with their fingers as they blow, creating different notes.

Anatomy of the Saxophone

The four main types of saxophone

Although Adolphe Sax created many different sizes of saxophone, there are only four which are in common usage today: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.

Each of the different sizes of saxophone has the same basic construction and the same key layout, so transferring between them is fairly straightforward.

Soprano Sax

Yamaha YSS475II
Soprano Saxophone
Good mid-level soprano
$ 2,500
/£1,800
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Experienced amateurs/students
8.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8.0/10

The soprano saxophone is the smallest of the commonly-played saxes, and sounds the highest.

It is sometimes made with a curved bell like the more common alto and tenor, but most often it is constructed totally straight, appearing a bit like a metal clarinet.

Although much rarer than the alto and tenor saxophones, the soprano can be heard in a variety of musical styles.

Famous soprano saxophone recordings include Englishman In New York by Sting, My Favourite Things by John Coltrane, or Ravel’s Bolero from the orchestral world.

Soprano saxophones are perhaps the hardest to master, and saxophonists normally start on alto or tenor first before exploring it.

PROS
CONS

Alto Sax

Yamaha YTS280
Alto Saxophone
Excellent student tenor
$ 1,300
/£900
  • Level:Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners, students
8.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8.0/10

The alto saxophone is perhaps the most common type of sax, along with the tenor. It is larger than the soprano, and although straight versions do exist, it is usually constructed with a curved bell at the bottom.

The alto sax is the instrument of choice for many pop musicians, and famous solos are played by alto saxophonists on the iconic Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, and Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are.

The alto sax has the versatility to play a huge variety of musical styles however, and can be heard in classical, jazz, rock and many others.

It is often the choice for younger beginners as its small size makes it lighter than the larger tenor, so is easier to play for long periods.

PROS
CONS

Tenor Sax

Yamaha YTS280
Tenor Saxophone
Excellent student tenor
$ 2,000
/£1,400
  • Level:Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners/students
8.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8.0/10

The tenor saxophone in b flat looks like a large alto, with the only obvious difference being that the tenor’s crook has a gentle curve.

It has a lower sound than the alto, and is perhaps more favoured for rock and jazz, although it is still very versatile. You can hear the tenor saxophone players on such famous tunes as The Girl from Ipanema and, of course, The Pink Panther!

PROS
CONS

Baritone Sax

Trevor James
Classic II
Baritone Saxophone
Good entry level baritone
$ 3,700
/£2,600
  • Level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Ideal for: Experienced amateurs/students
7.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7.0/10

The baritone saxophone is the largest of the common sax types, with the lowest sound.

The length of the tube requires a more curved construction than the others to make it practical to carry around, so the baritone has a much longer bell at the bottom, and an intricately twisted neck at the top.

It is less common as a solo instrument than the alto or tenor, but can often be heard as part of ensembles and big bands, and is famously featured on tracks such as this amazing version of Moanin’. The baritone sax is also the type of sax played by Lisa Simpson!

PROS
CONS

Other members of the saxophone family

Although these four different types of saxophones are by far the most common, Adolphe Sax originally came up with a much wider range, some of which are still enjoyed today by enthusiasts around the world (such as the bass saxophone, which is slightly larger than the baritone).

At the top of the range above the soprano there are the tiny sopranino and soprillo saxes, and at the bottom below the baritone can be found the huge bass and contrabass saxes.

There are also unusual instruments in the middle of the range, such as the C melody saxophone, which sits between the alto and tenor, and was very popular in the early 20th century.

While these instruments can be a lot of fun to explore, their rarity can make them expensive. There is also a lot less ensemble music written for them, so if playing in a group is of interest to you, it’s advisable to stick to one of the main four in most cases.

Recommended saxophone type for the child beginner

Trevor James
‘The Horn’
alto saxophone
Good entry level baritone
$ 800
/£550
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners with a limited budget
7.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7.0/10

The best saxophone for a child to start on is almost always the alto. It is lighter than the tenor, much easier to get to grips with than the soprano, and provides a great platform to learn the fundamentals.

It is quite common for students to start on alto, then transfer to another sax if they prefer when they are a bit older.

PROS
CONS

Recommended saxophone type for the adult beginner

Trevor James
‘The Horn’
Tenor Saxophone
Reasonably priced student tenor
$ 1,300
/£900
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners with a limited budget
7.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7.0/10

For an adult beginner alto and tenor saxophone are both great choices, and there are numerous good student models available to choose from.

People don’t often begin on baritone, as the size and weight do make it physically demanding, and there are also fewer student models available, leaving pricey professional instruments as the only option.

I wouldn’t recommend soprano for adult beginners either, as it requires quite a refined technique to make a nice sound. If you like the sound of the soprano, get stuck into the alto first and then you can easily switch later on.

PROS
CONS

The saxophone in genres of music

Saxophonists can be found right across the musical spectrum. Jazz is of course the instrument’s spiritual home, and it is very comfortable in rock and pop.

Increasingly the saxophone is becoming more prominent in classical music, with a growing range of superb repertoire to play for soloists and ensemble players alike.

Fundamentally the saxophone is incredibly versatile, with changes to technique, mouthpiece and reeds allowing a huge range of different sounds to be produced, and this allows saxophones to be at home in almost any genre you can think of.

The importance of a good mouthpiece
Yamaha 4C
Saxophone
Mouthpiece
Best for beginners
$ 47
/£33
  • Designed for: beginners and students
  • Material: plastic
8.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8.0/10

The mouthpiece and reed create the sound of the saxophone – the body just amplifies it. So getting these elements right when sorting your equipment is hugely important.

A mouthpiece needs to be shaped precisely to produce a good sound, and a cheaply made or unbranded mouthpiece will likely sound poor and inconsistent.

Fortunately, decent mouthpieces are not expensive. A Yamaha 4C, for example, costs £30-35 and is manufactured to a consistent standard, so you won’t need to upgrade for 5 years in most cases.

PROS
CONS
The importance of good quality reeds
Juno by Vandoren
Saxophone Reeds
Good quality reeds
$ 9
/£6
  • Designed for: beginners and students
  • Material: cane
8.0/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8.0/10

Similarly, reeds are not the place to economize. Bad reeds will make playing tiring and unrewarding. An established brand such as Vandoren Juno is the way to go.

PROS
CONS
Different Types Of Saxophones
Summary

The saxophone is a fantastically rewarding instrument to learn, and can lead you into great playing experiences in all sorts of styles of music.

Think carefully about which type of sax will suit you best depending on your age, experience and tonal preferences, and you’ll be well set to find an instrument you’ll take pleasure in for many years.

Ted's List

BEST saxophone for child beginners

Trevor James 'The Horn' Alto Saxophone

A great value first saxophone

Ted's List

BEST Saxophone For Adult Beginners

Trevor James 'The Horn' Tenor Saxophone

A quality first instrument without breaking the bank

Ted's List

BEST Beginner Mouth piece

Yamaha 4C Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

A solid and reliable mouthpiece from one of the world’s top musical instrument brands.

FAQ's

What are the 4 main types of saxophones?

The four main types of saxophone are soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.

Which saxophone is hardest to play?

Soprano is probably the hardest to sound good on for a beginner

Which type of saxophone is best?

Alto and tenor are best for beginners, and for younger beginners alto is the best choice. Otherwise, it’s all about your preference. Listen to some recordings and see which tone you prefer!

What is the difference in saxophones?

What makes each type of saxophone unique is the size, shape and tone. Baritones are very large and have a much more curled up tube, whereas sopranos are much smaller and usually completely straight

There are Many Types of Saxophone - Which One is Right for You?

Alto and tenor are best for beginners, and for younger beginners alto is the best choice. Otherwise, it’s all about your preference – listen to some recordings and see which tone you prefer!

What Are The Different Types Of Saxophone?

The four main types of saxophone are soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.

TYPES OF SAXOPHONES: WHAT ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

Alto and tenor are best for beginners, and for younger beginners alto is the best choice. Otherwise, it’s all about your preference – listen to some recordings and see which tone you prefer!

SHARE NOW
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Let Us save you Time & money by choosing the right instrument
FREE Report Reveals.....

GETTING STARTED WITH MUSIC LESSONS

Join Our Members Facebook Group Now

FREE

REPORT REVEALS...

saxophone Top 10 Tricks

Top 10 Tricks

To Playing The​

Saxophone

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

0 Comments

Join 4,729 Subscribers Who Receive
Free Tips On Learning A Musical Instrument
Affiliate Disclaimer: When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
This keeps it 100% reader-supported and free of ads. Thanks for your support!
Copyright © 2021 Arts Digital Limited trading as Ted’s List™®. All rights reserved.

Ted's List is a project run by The Emery Foundation - a Micro-Trust of GivingWorks, registered charity number 107877.

The idea of Ted's List was setup to raise funds for musicians during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the Get Musicians Working project.

Quick Guide...

Getting Started with Music Lessons

EVERY FRIDAY

Get the 4 Things We Have Been Loving, Using and Reviewing

Free Report Reveals...

10 Secrets To Successful Music Lessons

Join 4,729 Subscribers Who Receive Free Tips

Our community can help YOU learn any musical instrument in the best way possible - sign up now

THE SPOTLIGHT IS WAITING

Join Ted's List Now To Get Your Tips & Tricks

Sign up to save time & money when choosing a musical instrument

EVERY FRIDAY

Get the 4 Things We Have Been Loving, Using and Reviewing

EVERY FRIDAY

Get the 4 Things We Have Been Loving, Using and Reviewing

THE SPOTLIGHT IS WAITING

Your Tips & Tricks Are Waiting

Sign up to save time & money when choosing a musical instrument

ONE-2-ONE ADVICE PACKAGE

Need Professional Guidance On What To Buy?

Our 0ne-2-0ne Advice Package is a 15 minute phone-call with one of ted’s list’s professional musicians.

They can guide and advise you on what instrument to purchase and where from; often securing a discount along the way.

£50 £25

Every Friday

Get the 4 Things We Have Been Loving, Using and Reviewing

Your Video Is Waiting!

How To Save Time & Money When Choosing A Musical Instrument

THE SPOTLIGHT IS WAITING

Join Ted's List Now To Get Your Tips & Tricks

Sign up to save time & money when choosing a musical instrument

FREE REPORT REVEALS

Top 10 Tricks

To Playing The

Different Types of Saxophones

Join Ted's List Now To Get Your Tips & Tricks

Sign up now to find out how to save time & money when choosing a musical instrument

Join Ted's List Now To Get Your Tips & Tricks

Sign up now to find out how to save time & money when choosing a musical instrument