Different Types of Saxophones [4 Most Common and 6 Less Common]

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The saxophone is a relatively new instrument invented in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax. He originally made 14 different types of saxophones in a range of sizes because he conceived of an orchestra of just saxophones.

Today, there are 4 different types of saxophones that are most common. These 4 saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone. The soprano saxophone has the highest pitch. The baritone saxophone has the lowest pitch.

The soprano saxophone is the one played by Kenny G, and it looks like a clarinet.

The alto saxophone is a popular choice for students due to its small size. The tenor saxophone is what people think of when they think of a saxophone. It is bigger and has a deeper sound than the alto saxophone. The baritone saxophone has a very deep and powerful sound.

6 less common saxophone types that we will discuss include the sopranino, sopranissimo, bass, tubax, contrabass, and subcontrabass saxophones.

Read on to learn more about the different types of saxophones as well as their specs and features.

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Also, take a look at a great entry-level saxophone, the Jean Paul USA AS-400 SP Student Alto Saxophone.

It has a beautiful tone and outstanding intonation. It comes with everything you need, including a reed, cork grease, gloves, cloth, swabs, case, and mouthpiece.

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Different Types of Saxophones

Originally, the inventor, Adolphe Sax, made 14 different types of saxophones. Today, there are 4 saxophones that are most well-known and commonly played. These are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

The soprano saxophone looks like a clarinet and has a high pitch. If not for Kenny G, the soprano saxophone would not be well-known.

The alto saxophone is a small version of the tenor saxophone. It is popular with students due to its small size.

The tenor saxophone is what most people think of when they think of a saxophone. It is bigger than the alto saxophone and has a deeper pitch.

The baritone saxophone (or “bari” sax) is the biggest of the 4 common types of saxophones. It has a deep bass sound.

The bright, edgy tones of saxophones make them ideal for playing solos in rock and jazz music.

You may wonder why the saxophone is not used in orchestras that play classical music. The saxophone is relatively new compared to other more traditional orchestral instruments. Composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were around before the invention of the saxophone. So the saxophone is not a part of their original compositions.

types of saxophones

In the next sections, we will look at 10 different types of saxophones. The first 4 types are most common, popular, and well-known. The next 6 types are less common.

Most common types of saxophones:

  1. Soprano
  2. Alto
  3. Tenor
  4. Baritone

Less common types of saxophones:

  1. Sopranino
  2. Sopranissimo
  3. Bass
  4. Tubax
  5. Contrabass
  6. Subcontrabass

4 Most Common Types of Saxophones

Below we’ll look at the specs and features of the 4 most popular saxophones – the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone.

1. Soprano Saxophone

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The soprano sax, they say, is the most difficult to play. Kenny G is the most famous soprano saxophone player.

This sax is different from the others because of its shape. Unlike other saxophones, this one has a straight body.

It looks more like a recorder or a clarinet. I do not recommend this one for beginners because it is harder to learn.

You need to learn and master the correct mouth position or embouchure to really produce good quality sounds with this instrument. That is why you will see it played, not as an accompanying instrument but as a soloing instrument.

For a musician to play a soprano sax in the right way, he has to learn a very exact technique. This is the reason why beginners will find it hard to play this instrument. They still have to learn embouchure and other breathing techniques to play this instrument reasonably well.

2. Alto Saxophone

The easiest for a beginner to play is the alto sax. Its length is about the same as that of the soprano sax, but they are miles away from the required skills to play them. This instrument, along with the tenor sax, is most commonly played in brass bands.

This saxophone is used for jazz, rock, and classical. Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Parker are some of the famous musicians that popularized this instrument.

Recent musical artists who became popular by playing this sax include Dave Koz and his friends, who play alto and baritone saxes in this video.

The alto sax can play the melodies because of its mid-level and clear sound that can easily cut through all the instruments being played together. They are often used by sax soloists, making it the number one lead instrument in brass bands.

Compared to the bigger saxes like the baritone sax, the alto sax is relatively small. It is easy to hold, making it easier to play. This is the primary reason why it is ideal for beginning sax players.

A great entry-level saxophone is the Jean Paul USA AS-400 SP Student Alto Saxophone. It has a beautiful tone and outstanding intonation for its price point. It comes with a reed, case, cork grease, gloves, cloth, swabs, and mouthpiece.

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3. Tenor Saxophone

Some musicians consider the tenor saxophone as the jazz gold standard because of its features. For its tonal range, it is placed in the middle of the baritone and the alto sax. It is typically tuned in Bb (B flat).

Of all the types of saxophones, the tenor sax is the most widely used in the world. It will feel at home with almost all music genres, including classical, rock music, jazz, and many more. Coleman Hawkins, Clarence Thomas, and John Coltrane are the most famous tenor saxophonists in recent times.

Being a mid-size sax, it can be played by saxophonists of all sizes. You have seen them played by military or marching bands. The sound that it produces is full and crisp, making it ideal for harmony and rhythm alike.

A lot of people who play the saxophone proficiently started learning how to play the tenor sax first. It seems to be the natural bridge to learn how to play other types of saxes. If you would like to learn different saxophones, I recommend first learning the tenor or alto saxophone.

A good choice for a tenor saxophone is the Jean Paul USA Silver-Plated Intermediate Tenor Saxophone. It has great tone quality with keys that are easy to play. It also has a relatively affordable price given its superb build and sound quality.

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4. Baritone Saxophone

The biggest saxophone of all the four most popular saxes is the baritone sax. If allowed to stand upright, a typical baritone sax will reach about three feet from the ground.

Their average weight could range from 12 to 35 pounds. While it is somewhat bulky, it is still manageable to those who are well-built and have above-average height.

You can also see and hear this sax in many different music genres. It is commonly used by jazz musicians but can also be used in classical and rock music. Its design and construction can produce low notes that are full and deep and with great clarity.

This makes it very ideal for songs and music pieces in the low end. This is not the first sax that a beginner will usually pick up to learn. Typically, a person will first start with lighter saxes such as the alto and the tenor before taking up the heavier baritone.

Of the different kinds of saxophones listed above, the baritone saxophone is the most challenging because it requires stronger lungs. You need huge lung power to play it reasonably well. This video shows the baritone saxophone in action.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many saxophone types, including soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. The most famous is the tenor saxophone, followed by a soprano saxophone, the one played by Kenny G.

Other different types of saxophones will be discussed below.

Other Types of Saxophones You May Not Be Aware Of

There are other saxophone types you may not have heard of too often. What are these other types of saxes? Let’s explore them one by one:

1. Sopranino Saxophone

The sopranino, as you may have guessed, is a smaller version of the soprano sax. It is similarly shaped but only smaller. Since it is smaller, it can produce slightly higher notes than its bigger sister.

These musical instruments are actually regarded as specialty saxes. Like soprano saxes, they are not for beginners. They require you to develop the skills first and be skillful in proper mouthing positions before you can make them sound reasonably well.

2. Sopranissimo Saxophone

The sopranissimo is a saxophone in Bb or B flat. It is pitched one octave above the soprano saxophone. This is the smallest instrument in the saxophone class.

It is also known as the soprillo saxophone or the piccolo. This instrument is only about 12 inches (30 cm) long. With the mouthpiece connected, it is about 13 in. (33 cm) long.

different types of saxophone

3. Bass Saxophone

The bass saxophone is not used very often today, but it is still one of the saxophones you need to be acquainted with. Occasionally, you might hear it from the jazz radio or a jazz concert video played by one of the musicians.

It was relatively popular during the early 20th century, played in brass bands and orchestra providing good and deep low-end notes. This instrument requires a huge lung power to be played reasonably well.

So, if you’re a beginner, this is not for you. Only seasoned saxophonists would be able to play it well.

4. Tubax Saxophone

Next on our list of different types of saxophones is the Tubax saxophone. The tubax was developed only in 1999 by Benedikt Eppelsheim. It is a modified saxophone available in both Eb contrabass and Bb or C subcontrabass. The name tubax is a combination of ‘tuba’ and ‘sax.’ This is a unique saxophone that doesn’t look like the rest of its family.

5. Contrabass Saxophone

The contrabass is second to the biggest saxophones in terms of size and the second heaviest in weight. If you allow it to stand upright, it will reach a height of about 6 feet.

Being that tall, it has to be carried horizontally to be played. The other way of playing it is by holding it upright while sitting down.

It is also one of the specialty saxophones, so you won’t often see or hear it being played. In many cases, you will see it being played by virtuoso saxophonists. Being a specialty sax, it has a touch of novelty every time it is played. It creates big, deep, and resonating sounds.

To play it, you must have massive lung power. This makes it a no-no for beginner sax players. You first must have enough experience with the other heavier and bigger saxes before trying out this one.

Watch this video of a contrabass player and see how difficult it is to play this sax.

6. Subcontrabass Saxophone

Of all the different saxophones, the subcontrabass is the biggest. In an upright position from the ground, its height could reach a staggering 10 feet. These huge saxes are taller than the tallest man living on earth today.

There are not too many subcontrabass made today, mainly because of their special nature and their huge size. This instrument can produce incredibly low notes. Some of these notes are not even audible to our ears.

A subcontrabass can produce booming sounds that no other wind musical instrument can produce. Very few musicians can only play them. Only those who are endowed with massive lung strength and skills can play them reasonably well.

What Type of Instrument is a Saxophone?

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Saxophones are made of brass but are technically considered members of the woodwind family of musical instruments. They are regarded as such because they use reeds as their mouthpieces and not brass.

Saxophones use a reed as the vibrating membrane to produce sounds. The embouchure or the mouth’s position in the mouthpiece on the reed controls the tone and pitch. The sound produced depends on the amount of pressure that the bottom lip applies to the reed.

As the player depresses the keys, the pitch of the saxophone goes lower. A typical saxophone has 20 to 23 openings. Padded keys control these openings. The mouthpiece of a typical saxophone is made of plastic with a reed that is made from cane.

All types of saxophones have bodies that are made of brass, copper, nickel, or bronze. Today’s saxophone manufacturers are experimenting with new materials. One of these is carbon fiber, a very tough yet very flexible material.

Conclusion: Different Saxophone Types

Originally, the inventor, Adolphe Sax, made 14 different types of saxophones. There are 4 saxophones that are most popular today. These most common saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

The most popular of them is the tenor saxophone, followed by the alto saxophone, which is popular due to its smaller size. The soprano saxophone is high pitch and popularized by Kenny G. The baritone saxophone is a bigger, deep bass saxophone.

The other types of saxophones are not well known because of their ‘specialty’ nature.

Most common types of saxophones:

  1. Soprano
  2. Alto
  3. Tenor
  4. Baritone

Less common types of saxophones:

  1. Sopranino
  2. Sopranissimo
  3. Bass
  4. Tubax
  5. Contrabass
  6. Subcontrabass

Now that you know the different kinds of saxophones, you will know which is best for you. I recommend starting out with the alto saxophone or tenor saxophone as those are the easiest to learn.

Related reading:

How to Play Saxophone [Learn by Yourself]

Best Saxophones – [Alto, Tenor, Soprano, and Bari]

What Instrument Does Kenny G Play? [Kenny G Instrument]

Pros and Cons of Playing Saxophone

Selmer Reference 54 Tenor Saxophone Specs and Review