Types Of Saxophones

I really like how there are many different types of saxophone.

They each have their own unique sound, look and feel.

It’s a well known fact that guitarists become addicted to buying more guitars.  Disappointingly, it’s the same for saxophonists !!

While there are eight or more types of saxophones, four are rarely used.  As a result, there are really four main types of saxophone, with a couple of extras floating around in the background.


Four Main Saxophones.


Soprano Saxophone

The first of the four main types of saxophones is known as the Soprano Saxophone.

It is the smallest, the lightest and has the highest pitch or sound.  Interestingly, it can come in two different shapes – straight like a clarinet, or curved like a regular sax.

From a beginners perspective, the soprano saxophone is not a good place to start on your saxophone journey.  It is difficult to play in tune and tend to be on the more expensive side of musical instrument purchases.

A good soprano sax will cost more than most beginners may wish to spend.  A cheap soprano sax in the hands of a beginner may or may not sound like a duck being strangled.

If a saxophonist has some experience on one or more of the other types of saxophones, then it can be a beautiful instrument indeed.

Arguably, Kenny G is the most famous soprano sax player of recent times, with his instrumental song ” Songbird ” .


Alto Saxophone


The second of the four main types of saxophones is the Alto Saxophone.

This is the most popular sax and probably the most well known. 

Most beginner saxophonists start on the alto.  This is largely because of its size – it is easy both for a child and for an adult to hold and master.  Also, because of its popularity, it tends to be in a more realistic price bracket when students or their parents are looking to purchase.

Alto saxes have been used across all forms of music – from orchestral/classical, to jazz, to big bands, to chillout, to dance music, to pop/rock, to funk and everything in between.  The alto sax is a very versatile instrument.

There have been many famous alto saxophonists over many decades.  Arguably, the most famous Alto Sax songs from recent times are ” Lily Was Here ” with Candy Dulfer on alto sax.  Maceo Parker has put his stamp on the alto sax with his amazing funk performances – including with James Brown, Prince plus his own band – and his very well known song ” Pass The Peas “.


Tenor Saxophone


The third of the four main types of saxophones is the Tenor Saxophone.

Tenor saxophones are bigger than their alto brothers and sisters and therefore have a deeper sound.  Again, Tenor saxes appear across all musical styles and genres, however, they tend to be more used in jazz, rock and funk.  The tenor sax can wail, be soulful, roar, or be soft, breathy and subtle.

As a beginner saxophonist, it might be worth waiting until you are over the age of 13 or 14 and have started to grow due to the Tenor Sax’s size and weight.

Similar in shape to the Alto, the Tenor sax is also a well known member of the saxophone family.

Again, arguably, the most famous tenor sax song is the ” Pink Panther Theme “.


Baritone Saxophone ( usually known as Bari Sax )

The fourth of the four main types of saxophones is the Baritone Saxophone, affectionately known as the Bari Sax.

The Bari Sax is a great big monster.  It is deep in sound and huge in size.  It is not recommended for the feint of heart or the small of stature.

Like it’s much small cousin the soprano sax, the Bari sax is not recommended for the first time beginner saxophonist.  Without a year or two of  experience on an alto or a tenor sax, the Bari will be difficult.  However, if you’ve got a little sax experience, then go for it !!

Also like its Soprano Sax cousin, the Bari Saxophone is an expensive instrument to buy.  Partly because of its lesser popularity, partly because of its sheer size, Baritone Saxophones are not cheap.

But they certainly rock !!  They have been used in rock and soul bands for years.  They were especially popular in the 1960’s soul and rock sounds.  A well known Bari Sax solo is in the middle of the ” Da Doo Ron Ron ” song by The Crystals from 1963 (although you can’t see it in the original video).  Another very recent and well known viral sample of the Bari Sax is the crazy guy with the multi colored mohawk, the ridiculously bendy legs and his band ” Lucky Chops “.


Four other lesser known types of saxophones.

Sopranino Saxophones are tiny and very high pitched.  They can be curved or straight like a Soprano.

C Melody Saxophones look like a tenor sax, but slightly smaller.  These are quite rare.

Bass Saxophones are big.  Sometimes they get a gig in a large orchestra.

Contrabass Saxophones are huge.  They are about the same size as an average adult male and weigh about the same too.  If you see someone with a Contrabass saxophone coming towards you – run.



P.S.  What is your favourite of all the different types of saxophones ?

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