The saxophone is a single-reed woodwind instrument with a cone-shaped body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument's body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments.
The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker, flautist, and clarinetist who lived in Paris in the early 1840s. Sax invented two groups of seven instruments each—one group contained instruments in C and F, and the other contained instruments in B♭ and E♭. The B♭ and E♭ instruments soon became dominant and most saxophones encountered today are from this series.
From the earliest days of the saxophone the body and key cups have been made from brass. However, some major saxophone companies such as Yanagisawa and Julius Keilwerth have used other materials such as sterling silver, nickel silver and a copper-nickel-zinc alloy to construct the bodies of some saxophone models.
Other materials are used for some mechanical parts and keywork. Buttons where the fingers contact the keys are usually made from plastic or mother of pearl. Rods, screw pins, and springs are usually made of blued or stainless steel. Mechanical buffers made of felt, cork, leather, and various synthetic materials are used to minimize mechanical noise from key movement and to optimize the action of the keywork.
Nickel silver is sometimes used for hinges for its advantages of mechanical durability, although the most common material for such applications has remained brass. Finally, Manufacturers usually apply a finish to the surface of the instrument's body and keywork. The most common finish is a thin coating of clear or coloured acrylic lacquer to protect the brass from oxidation and maintain a shiny appearance.
The accessories needed to play the saxophone include the reed, mouthpiece, ligature and cap. Each size of saxophone (alto, tenor, etc.) uses a different size of reed and mouthpiece. Most saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo donax cane, but since the middle of the twentieth century some have been made of fiberglass or other composite materials. Commercial reeds vary in hardness and design, and single-reed players try different reeds to find those that suit their mouthpiece, embouchure, and playing style.
The Saxophone Family
Mouthpiece design has a profound impact on tone. Different mouthpiece design characteristics and features tend to be favoured for different styles. Early mouthpieces were designed to produce a "warm" and "round" sound for classical playing. At the opposite extreme from the classical mouthpieces, there are mouthpieces that produce a bright sound with maximum projection, suitable for having a sound stand out among amplified instruments.
Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including hard rubber, plastic, and metals such as bronze or surgical steel. Less common materials that have been used include wood, glass, crystal, porcelain, and bone.
The saxophone first gained popularity in military bands and later found its way into concert bands, chamber music, symphony orchestras, and operas. However, the music that most people incorporate the saxophone with is Jazz music. Notable saxophonists in the early jazz era include Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk and of course Charlie Parker. Nowadays, saxophones are used in all sorts of popular music. Famous saxophonists who played pop music include Kenny G, Kirk Whalum, and Dave Koz.
Now you already know about The Saxophone. Are you interested? Click here to get one for yourself