The Saxophone

The soprano saxophone is 40 cm long and has a range of about 2 1/2 octaves, from A3-flat to E6-flat. The alto sax covers D3 to A5-flat. The family of saxophones patented in 1846 by Adolphe Sax combines the single reed of the clarinet with the bore and fingering patterns of the oboe, producing the tonal qualities of neither. Saxophones are made in eight sizes and pitch levels, spanning the entire spectrum of wind-instrument pitches. The most common are the alto and tenor saxophones. They have been effectively used in jazz bands and popular dance orchestras.

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The Saxophone

In comparison with the other widely used single reed instrument, the clarinet, the saxophone employs a conical air column compared to the clarinet's cylindrical column. This implies that it sounds all harmonics of the air column rather than just the odd harmonics of a closed cylinder. It also implies that the first upper register is one octave up (2nd harmonic) rather than an octave plus a fifth (3rd harmonic) for the clarinet.

Within a register, opening a hole will shorten the air column and produce a higher note. This sounds simple, but saxophone construction shows that it is not! The precise amount of "shortening" of the air column depends upon the size of the hole. For a large hole, the effective length is essentially the distance from the mouthpiece to the hole, but for smaller holes the length is effectively longer than that. For saxophones, the holes for higher notes (holes nearer the mouthpiece) are small, but they are made progressively larger for lower notes. For the larger of these holes, keys are necessary to accomplish their covering.

Saxophone illustration
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Adolphe Sax

Adophe Sax was born on November 6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium. He was the son of a musical instrument maker, and thus was exposed early to the details of musical instrument design. He sought to make an instrument similar to the clarinet which would produce an upper register an octave up, rather than an octave plus a fifth as in the clarinet. He also sought to make an instrument which would bridge between the strings and woodwinds for orchestral playing, and between the woodwinds and brass in the military band setting. Sax envisioned a total of 14 variations on the saxophone, and obtained patents for his basic design in 1846.

Saxophone discussion
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