How to Choose a Saxophone (Factors to Consider According to Science)

The saxophone is one of the most popular and the most used instrument in the woodwind family. It is a  woodwind instrument not because its made of wood, but its all about how the sound is produced, like other woodwind instruments, the saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece to direct air into the instrument. It is usually made of brass.

It's also one of the most unique and versatile woodwind instruments. It is considered to be one of the closest instruments to the human voice, called by many a “singing” instrument.

Although it was originally envisaged as a classical and military band instrument, it has since made its way into almost every class of music around the world from pop and rock to jazz, classical, and the vanguard.

A lot of people associate the saxophone with rock or jazz music, and with some of the legendary saxophonists. But what most people don't know is that there are several types of saxophones available to musicians, and that the instrument has a wider range and flexibility than most people think.

Many beginners  get it wrong when they are at the juncture of choosing the type of saxophone which fits the kind of music they wish to play, their skill. When I was a kid, I didn't know there were different kinds of saxophones, I only knew about the alto saxophone owned by my grandfather.

Musicians choose the type of saxophone they want based on the type of music of music they want to play, mood and event, which is why before choosing a saxophone it advisable to have the full knowledge about the different types of saxophones and choose a  model that matches their skill level as closely as possible, most people know about the alto sax and the tenor saxophone. There are many types of saxophones, but only four are commonly used which includes the soprano B♭ Soprano, Alto in E♭, Tenor in B♭, and Baritone in E♭. Others include Bass, Sopranissimo, Conrabass, Subcontrabass, Supranino

SOPRANO

 The B♭ Soprano is the smallest and highest pitched type of saxophone family. In comparison to tenor saxophone, soprano sax one is an octave higher, it is used most commonly in jazz music. Today’s soprano saxophones  are designed straight or with a slight bend either in the broth, bell, or neck, There are still curved ones being sold nowadays, though. The soprano saxophone also has the most unequaled sound, but also it also the most difficult to learn or handle, so it is not advisable for beginners to start with.

Sometimes the soprano comes with two necks, a straight one and a curved one. Most soprano saxophones today,  are designed straight or with a slight bend either in the broth, bell, or neck. 

When standing to perform, some players find it less difficult to use the straight neck, whereas when seated it can be more comforting to use the curved neck, as the finger positions remain the unaltered, and the angle of the mouthpiece doesn't change.

Popular players of this instrument include Dave Leibman, Steve Lacy, John Coltrane, Kenny G, and Sidney Bechet

ALTO

The Alto saxophone, tuned to E♭, positioned two-and-a-half steps above the tenor saxophone,it is larger than the soprano and is regarded as a medium-sized saxophone. Because of its size and ease of use, Sax imagined a total of 14 different varieties of saxophone, of which the alto saxophone is the most commonly played saxophone in the woodwind family.

It is larger than the soprano and is considered a medium-sized saxophone. It is the easiest of all the saxophones to learn how to play. It has a small mouthpiece, which restricts  the amount of intonation the musician can add to the sound, offering more consistency and making it less difficult for Juvenile players with smaller hands and a smaller breathing capacity to play the alto saxophone. 

The alto saxophone is the best out of all types of the saxophone in the woodwind family which is recommended for beginners who wish to become a professional saxophonist, it is perfect for beginners in learning correct posture, breathing technique, fingering and embouchure. And also alto sax can as well be much of a help to professional players who wish to widen their skills and gain more experience.

It is mainly designed with the classic saxophone curve at the bottom of the instrument, but they can be designed as straight or having only a slight curve. Alto sax can  be applied to jazz and contemporary and used in classical music compositions music as well.

The tenor saxophone share some similarities with the alto saxophone including fingers and embouchure

Some saxophonists who were successful playing alto and tenor saxophones includes James Moody, David Fathead, Sonny Stitt, Newman and Frank Wess.

Charlie Parker, whose fleet-fingered technique and inventive phrasing still sets the standard for modern jazz players, helped shape the sound of bebop nearly exclusively playing an alto sax.

TENOR

The tenor saxophone  is almost always a classic curved design and it is considered as the most versatile of all the saxophone family. It is also known to be a common one used by musicians for similar reasons as the alto saxophone. Tuned to B♭, the  tenor saxophone is widely used for jazz, but is also famous in rock and classical genres. The tenor is a bit larger than the alto sax, it also has a mouthpiece which is larger than that on the alto, making it more appropriate for more skilled players who can make use of the additional intonation features of its size.

One of the first important tenor saxophonists in Jazz was Coleman Hawkins, other popular tenor saxophonists include John Coltrane,  Lester Young, Bob Berg, Michael Brecker and Sonny Rollins. 

BARITON

The baritone saxophone is the largest of the regular family of saxophones, only the bass, contrabass and subcontrabass saxophones are bigger than the baritone. 

This type is used in an extensive variety of music genres due to the tune that it offers to music,  It has a deep and rich tone which still makes it popular for many different music classes. Pitched in the key of E flat and plays exactly one octave lower than the alto saxophone and two-and-a-half steps higher than the bass saxophone, It is regarded as the lowest-pitched saxophone commonly used, well known for its application in classical music, military bands, marching bands and jazz. 

There are two types of baritones, one ranging to a low A and the other to a low B flat. Because of its weight and size, it's difficult to play and carry around, making it the least commonly used out of the four main saxophones, in fact it's not advisable for beginners to start with. In addition its expensive and prone to some damages.

Popular players of the baritone saxophone include Pepper Adams, Hamiet Bluiett, Harry Carney, Gerry Mulligan, John Surman, and Joe Temperley.

How To Choose A Saxophone

Having acquired knowledge about the different types of saxophones, the genres of music they are used for, the roles they play in music, and famous saxophonists who were successful playing them. I realized that the ultimate fear of people is spending money on a saxophone and later, they discover that is not exactly what suits the I taste, skill or the kind of music they want to play.  Here at the different important factors you have to watch out for Now let's look at factors to consider before choosing a saxophone.

PURCHASE OR RENT

This is one of the questions that run through people’s mind when they want to purchase a saxophone. Purchasing a new saxophone gives the buyer a lot of advantages, a few to be mentioned. Owning a saxophone gives you a significant psychological effect of knowing that this is your saxophone, buying your own saxophone gives you freedom of using it properly the way you wish and take it anywhere, it offers unlimited freedom of movement. Also, purchasing a saxophone might not be such a good idea, because of the cost.

Why you should consider renting a saxophone

Most reputable musical instrument stores offer rental services. This hopefully ensures renters gets instruments in a good working condition, and it's also advisable to go for a test run to check if its working properly. Some retailers also provide annual maintenance on the instrument at no charge to you, rentage also allows monthly payments instead of paying a large amount of money

One of the disadvantages of renting a saxophone is that rental fees add up quickly, at the end of the year a playable student-level saxophone can be purchased for less than the cost of a year’s rental. Also, most rental instrument have scratches, dents, nicks  is prone to early damage, and the renter will be responsible for it.

NEW OR OLD?

This is arguably the most puzzling question for beginners. Though most people don't even think twice before opting to choose a new saxophone. Many people feel secure purchasing brand new instrument from a shop which is actually good. Brand new saxophones offers uniqueness and speciality. 

Why you should consider getting a new saxophone

When purchasing a new saxophone you have the assurance that  there isn't any wear or tear, nicks, dents, and scratches on it. It also offers support in a way of assurance from the music store or shop/the factory where you purchased it.

New saxophone? - No!

One of the disadvantages of purchasing a brand new saxophone is the high cost, new horns can cost up to more than 8 times as much as a used horn.

Another problem with new horns is that, some of them lack consistency while playing.

Reasons you should opt for an old saxophone

Purchasing an old saxophone might not be as bad as people think. If you don't have much to spend. Buying a used saxophone offers numerous choices, also the craftsmanship and materials of old horns is often great. Through getting second hand instruments some real savings can be made.

Reasons why you should not go for a used saxophones

It's more difficult purchasing horns on the internet, because goods can only be described in texts and pictures(not reliable), and also buying from private individual music stores. Not all horns can be bought with a perfect condition, some used saxophones are ready to go immediately after purchase, some might even need up to $200 to $300 repair and make adjustments before it can work properly. And also the durability of the used horn is also important, many used horns might not be as good as they are displayed, as some are only placed in a good viewing condition not in a good playing condition,this horn may also have some minor key or rod damage that keeps it from playing properly.

Also one should be wary of stolen horns. So it's advisable to purchase only from reputable sellers and not just from any individual. I’d recommend you check out ‘Evaluating Used Saxophone’ by Paul D. Race for more.

VINTAGE OR MODERN

Most people actually doesn't know what a vintage saxophone is all about. It is quite unacceptable to just pick a date and conclude that all instrument in that time are vintage instruments, some even brand the vintage horn as ‘uncollectible, reading about the “Ergonomics of saxophone” will help in having the full knowledge about what caused the division between the vintage and the modern saxophones. It actually refers to the ‘degree of quality’, though some instrument have lost value and quality, and some are better by far than these modern saxophones. One of the merits of these vintage horns is the durability, many horns made now

Also, vintage horns offers uniqueness, speciality among other owners.

So what makes vintage horns inconsiderable?

Getting a vintage horn might not be a good idea because of unknown structural damages or whether previous repairs and adjustments have been done properly.

Also, brass has poor wear resistance, due to the fact that it’s a comparatively volatile metal. Obviously, there would be signs of wear probably on brass pillars, leaks can develop. 

Vintage horns can have odd intonation tendencies and most need enormous adjustment if you purchase them.

Some vintage horns may have some damaged parts which might be more difficult to replace. Some of this parts are uncommon, parts such as neck, even vintage saxophone repairmen with the right parts can even be harder to find. 

What makes modern horns so good?

Modern alloys withstand wear far better most times than that of the vintage, modern brass is far more elastic than vintage brass. Also, in the area of the finish, modern finishes are far more durable than that of vintage finishes.

Unlike vintage horns, modern horns can be easily repaired and might not need changing of its parts.

What makes modern horns look bad?

When evaluating the modern horn, the building cannot be overlooked, and in this area there is an advantage and a disadvantage, some of the modern horns, are constructed a lot lighter than the vintage horns making it more easier to carry and move, but unfortunately, it could suffer from soft keywork.

Another reason why people do not consider modern horns is because of its costs, but if the right choice is made, and probably you’ve got an expert, you won’t have any regrets.

WHAT MODEL?

After deciding whether you want to purchase or rent a new or used saxophone, it's time to know the kind of model that fits you. As a beginner who is on a limited budget, a student model will actually suit your needs, even if you want to rent, you will definitely see one. 

The intermediate model is very suitable for semi-professional or intermediate players. And for professionals, it's a little more difficult and requires great knowledge about the specifications, upgrade and construction and most importantly the “horn".

  • Student Model

For student models there are numerous options and also though that many spend, but there was nothing to show for it, only regrets!. Which is why it important for buyers to be very careful, because buying a saxophone as student with bad sound or defects could kill his or her dream more faster than anything else. Beginners feel more comfortable using the student sax, in fact it was made for new players and mae easier to play and produce sound on while making it simpler to learn the fundamentals they are usually made with light weight for easy and better handling. Student model is best suitable for individuals who have stopped playing the instrument but may want to play again in the future, armateur players, who play occasionally and informally.

  • Intermediate Model

The intermediate model, stands between the student saxophone and the professional saxophone.It's the next model recommended for who have mastered the beginner model and have gained some experience and skills before acquiring a professional saxophone. The intermediate horns usually do not produce similar quality of tone, but sometimes the key work and action of the intermediate model feel similar to that of professional model.

  • Professional Model

Speaking of professional models, it is going to require a huge financial investment, which is going to pay off if the right the right choice is made. Like the student model, there are a lot of choices. The pro saxophone has a lot of handwork including complex hand engraving on the bell, hand-hammered keys. It also have the highest quality of materials, making its expressiveness, eloquence and playability more professional.

So it will be advisable to be very sure and confident about your playing skills, experience before choosing a top horn.

Check out this article to know more about choosing a professional saxophone and the qualities the professional saxophone possesses.

ACCESSORIES

 

What is a bird without its wings? What is a saxophone without the right accessories?

There are many available saxophone accessories, some are accessories are necessary and some are not. Purchasing the right saxophone accessories becomes just as important as choosing the right saxophone, because having the right accessories compliments the saxophone for players who are serious about producing the best sound from their instruments. Also, it helps to add to the experience and have the feeling of being ready to play. So we’re going to be looking at different accessories of the saxophone.

  • The Reed

One of the most important accessory of the saxophone, the saxophone uses a single reed that is placed on the mouthpiece. A reed is usually made from natural cane that is grown in southern France, thick at the bottom, thinning gradually to the slightly curved top.

It is used to make sound, through vibrations, on most woodwind instrument, excluding the flute.

It fits against the instrument's mouthpiece and is secured by a metal band called a ligature. The reed also makes the air column vibrate, which helps produce the instrument's sound.

When buying reeds you will be asked to specify what strength of reed you need. The "strength" of a reed is determined by many different variables including density and flexibility. All reeds have their own specific function, the type of reed used for a clarinet can not be used for a saxophone.

The reed has its own case and tools, for proper use and good maintenance. The reed case is used in keeping and protecting the reed from damage, and also, it helps in separating the used reeds and the unused ones. Reed tools include the trimmer, the knife, and the resurfacer which helps to thin out the top side improving playability.

  • Mouthpiece

Out of all the accessories of the saxophone,when it comes to dictating the kind of sound that is produced, the mouthpiece is the most essential item, it has the greatest effect on the sound produced, the mouthpiece can be said to be the notable link between the instrument and the player .Mouthpieces are commonly made from various metals including brass, steel, producing and also hard rubber(plastic muddles).

The materials used in producing the mouthpiece has a huge effect on the qualities of the tone produced. Also, mouthpieces are produced not for just only an instrument, it has its own specific use based on the kind of instrument, the mouthpiece for an alto saxophone can not be used on a soprano saxophone. Specifically, there are saxophone mouthpieces for beginners.

The design of the saxophone mouthpiece is not really different from that of the clarinet, but the sax version is bigger and has a larger chamber inside it.

The saxophone mouthpiece is made up of the following parts, which includes, The Facing/Tip Opening, baffle, chamber, table, window,break etc

The mouthpiece can be easily switched or removed whenever it's necessary. The laying of the mouthpiece has much influence on the strength o​​​​f the reed. 

  • The ligature

The ligature completes the three most important accessories of the saxophone. They have great influence on the type of sound that comes out of the instrument.The saxophone ligature holds the sax reed into the mouthpiece firmly. It is shaped like a clamp. Plastic, leather and metal, are the common materials used in making the saxophone ligature.

The type and material can have an impact on the functioning of the reed, in addition to the player’s personal preference. 

  • The Neck

The saxophone neck is a conical metal tube, also referred to as “gooseneck” connects the mouthpiece of the saxophone with its body,  though one of the least valued part of the saxophone, along with the mouthpiece and the reed, the saxophone neck has a vast influence on the color of the tone, projections, response and intonation of the saxophone. So it's quite vital to make a rigorous inspection while choosing a saxophone neck in course of making part changes.

The octave vent and key is located on the neck of saxophone, the octave vent is a single hole, next to the octave vent is a flat metal key called the octave key which operates the octave mechanism on the neck.

The saxophone neck has an accessory called “Neck Strap” looped through an eyelet on the back side of the horn and worn around the player’s neck, it ensures easy play, offers support and free movement of fingers on the keys. 

MATERIALS AND FINISHES - LACQUER VS PLATING

The materials which the saxophone is made up of is also one of the most important factors that influences the decision of buyers and mostly beginners.

Primarily, yellow brass  is the material in which most saxophones are commonly made with, though there are other alternative materials such as , bronze, copper and sterling silver, which are costlier than the yellow brass.

Various finishes are available: different types of lacquer and metal plating, e.g. silver, gold and nickel.

I discovered that, whether these materials or finishes have a direct influence on the tone of the horn has become, arguably one of the most controversial topics surrounding saxophones.  

While many players have given their different opinions, some said the material or finish does affect the kind of sound the sax produces, some said is does not while some said it does, but it's quite insignificant. 

1. Lacquered brass

Regarded as the most common and traditional material used in constructing modern saxophones.

The brass body and keys are covered in a clear of gold-colored lacquer. 

2. Silver plating 

The silver plating increases the weight of the instruvolume the silver plating also adds volume and makes sound projection more clearer. 

3. Black Lacquer/Matte Finish 

Black and matte lacquer finishes are heavier, it adds not only weight to the instrument but to the sound itself, giving  the instrument a thicker sound. 

4. Nickel Plating

Nickel plating offers a luminous projection of sound, mostly preferred by jazz performers. 

5. Copper/Bronze Plating

These metals are quite softer and heavier than brass. The softer metals produce much darker, richer tone. May be found in the finish, body or neck.

 ONLINE VS STORE/SHOP

 This is a factor you should be pay more attention to, we’ve been talking about the materials, getting a new or old, vintage or modern,though vital, but speaking of where to get your saxophone is more important and many buyers have been cheated in the process of purchasing a saxophone.

Online shopping has become a popular shopping method ever since the internet has taken over, due to the rapid growth and development of technology business organizations have changed their methods of selling goods from traditional to electronic methods of selling products. So what are the pros of buying your saxophone online? 

  • It is less expensive

One of the reasons why most people opt to get their products online is because of its cost. Most online stores, aiming at attracting customers and increasing their turnover offer discounts to customers thus making it more cheaper. 

  • No pressure

Normally in physical stores, sales representatives try to influence the buyers to buy the product, and you may be confronted by pushy salespeople There can be some kind of pressure, whereas the customers are not pressurized in any way in online stores.

Why you should buy your sax from physical music stores or shops in place of buying it online

  • No room for interaction

Online shopping doesn't give room for interaction or negotiation between the buyer and the seller, whereas physical stores allow price  negotiations between the seller and the buyer making transaction more effective and satisfactory. 

  • No close checking

Buying an instrument from an online store might not be a good idea. In the process of purchasing products such as a saxophone, one need close examination, testing to be safe from buying an instrument with faults and damages. So, if at all you opt to purchase your saxophone online, you should be very careful, and it is advisable to purchase from a reliable and a trusted online store.

  • Fraud, wrong product delivery

Fraudulent practices have turned to a normal thing in online shopping, and many buyers have been victimized. Its not advisable to purchase your instrument online because only images of products and their descriptions are disclosed to customers,which is a disadvantage for many online shoppers, especially instrumentalists. Through this many customers are cheated, some online stores display pictures of products without defects and damages, but on delivering the product, customers find out that the product delivered is not the same with the one online. 

  • No local offices to make complaints

Lastly, Yes I agree, both online and physical stores have their own flaws, but what about making corrections?

Some online stores do not have local stores in some cities, which makes it impossible for customers to make complaints or rather return products with defects, whereas buying your saxophone from a local music store makes it possible for you to test, examine and make complaints about your product. 

GENRES OF MUSIC   

The class of music you wish to play is also one of the reason why people choose a specific kind of saxophone.  

  • Tenor saxophone

The tenor saxophone as stated earlier is considered one of the most versatile of all the kinds of saxophone.  The tenor saxophone is mostly used in classical music concert bands, chamber music, military bands, marching bands, jazz and rock music. 

  • Soprano Saxophone 

Including jazz music, the soprano saxophone is famously used as a solo and chamber instrument in classical music, though it is occasionally used in a concert band or orchestra. 

  • Alto Saxophone

It is mainly designed with the classic saxophone curve at the bottom of the instrument, but they can be designed as straight or having only a slight curve

Mainly used in classical compositions,  but can also be applied to jazz and contemporary music as well. 

  • Baritone Saxophone

The baritone sax played an important part in military bands and is common in musical theater. It is also used in rock music. The baritone saxophone is used as a standard member of concert bands and saxophone quartets. Famous baritone saxophonists in contemporary American popular music include Stephen Kupka and Dana Colley. 

Conclusion

One of the best tips in choosing what's best for you and what suits your interest is to be fully enlightened and oriented.

If you really have a knowledge about what you really want with little experience, at the end you won't regret the decisions you have made.  Don't rely on this article alone, you've got the internet make researches, ask questions, consult experts or experienced players. 

One other point of importance is that, be wary of what influences the decisions you make.

Many people  get it wrong when they are at the juncture of choosing the type of saxophone which fits the kind of music they wish to play and their skills

What should be one the factors that will affect your decisions have been listed above, don't let your friend or any of your parents choose for you, after all you gonna be the on to play it, its your instrument, your music. Follow your instincts.

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