The saxophone is an instrument with a tone somewhere between a brass instrument and a woodwind. The sax is a must in all types of music from jazz, to classical, to pop, when a smooth and bright sound is called for.

The Origins of the Saxophone

The saxophone is the only instrument in wide use today, electronic instruments excluded, known to be invented by a single individual. His name is Adolphe Sax: that is why it is called the saxophone. History tells us that Adolphe Sax (1814 - 1894) was a musical instrument designer born in Belgium who could play many wind instruments. His idea was to create an instrument that combined the best qualities of a woodwind instrument with the best qualities of a brass instrument, and in the 1840s he conceived the saxophone. This invention was patented in Paris in 1846. The saxophone has always been made of brass since it was first invented. Because of the principles by which it produces sound, however, it is classified as a woodwind, much like the flute.

Originally there were 14 members of the saxophone family. In fact, Adolphe Sax conceived of an orchestra consisting solely of saxophones, and so he made saxophones in a range of sizes, from the sopranino in the high range to the contrabass in the low range. As a group, these instruments have a range that spans two and a half octaves. Yet today, there are only five types in widespread use. In pitch order from high to low, they are the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. Adolphe Sax also invented the saxhorn, a brass instrument with valves, but this is not a member of the saxophone family.

Though the saxophone is made of metal, it generates sound with a single reed, and so it is classified as a woodwind rather than as a brass instrument. Be that as it may, the original goal of the inventor was said to be to bridge the gap between the brass and the woodwinds, to blend the divergent tones of the two groups in wind-instrument music, to reinforce the lower range of the woodwinds, and to create a tonal balance. The saxophone, in fact, blends in well with both brass and woodwinds, and is now heavily relied upon to firm up the tone of the band and give it a rich voice and charm.

The dynamic range of the saxophone is the widest of all the woodwinds. It has tonal qualities very close to those of the human voice, and it is capable of a wide range of expression, so it is no wonder that it features prominently in the history of jazz music as a solo instrument. In classical music as well, it enjoys a robust repertoire, particularly from French composers, and it is used in a wide range of instrumental groupings, including chamber music, orchestra, and even as a solo instrument.