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The saxophone was invented by a Belgian clarinetist and instrument maker Adolphe Sax, who is credited with the invention or modification of many wind instruments (all of whose names begin with “sax”.) The saxophone and the "saxhorn" are the only two still in use. It was invented to resemble an intermediate instrument between woodwind and brass, although it is generally considered a single-reed woodwind instrument. It was first heard in 1841 in a now unknown oratorio, “The Last King of Judah”.

With the approval and monetary support of Hector Berlioz he moved operations to Paris in 1842. The saxophone immediately found a popular place in military bands, where it has enjoyed a major role ever since. Though it has not found a prominent place in the woodwind family of the orchestra, beginning with "Rhapsody for Saxophone and Orchestra” by Debussy it has enjoyed a small but distinguished solo repertoire as a "classical" instrument, especially among French composers such as Henri Dutilleux and Jacques Ibert. Its greatest opportunity to shine however came with the development of jazz in the United States in the early 20th century. Its popularity in the dance bands proliferating during the First World War, and as a solo or featured instrument since – together with its continuing appeal in marching bands - has put it at the forefront of wind instruments.

Originally, Sax invented 14 different saxophones.[1] There are four types of saxophones in common use today: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. The term "saxophone quartet," refers to a group of these four instruments, for which much modern repertoire has been written. More obscure saxophones are the soprillo, sopranino, mezzo-soprano, bass and contrabass saxophones and the tubax.

Because the note fingering is the same on all types of saxophones - being transposing instruments - it is easy for a saxophonist to switch from one sax to another, although it is sometimes difficult to adjust to the differently-sized mouthpiece of each instrument.

Table of Saxophone Types

The following table lists common and uncommon types of saxophones, listed from highest pitch to lowest pitch.

Type Key Obscurity
Soprillo B Obscure
Sopranino E Obscure
Mezzo-soprano F Obscure
Soprano B Common
Alto E Common
C melody C Obscure
Tenor B Common
Baritone ("Bari") E Common
Bass B Obscure
Contrabass E Obscure
Tubax B Obscure


  1. Pearson, Bruce. "Standard of Exellence Comprehensive Band Method Book 1 E Alto Saxophone." San Diego: Niel A. Kjos Music Company, 1993. 48.