History Of The Saxophone And How It Works

The saxophone is a reed instrument that has shaped our musical history, especially the world of jazz. There are several types of saxophones and several artists who made it popular.

For decades, the saxophone has been the voice of jazz. It's the soulful wail and upbeat jump that have made the saxophone a staple in the world of music. However, the saxophone started out in military bands in the year of its birth, 1846.

In the early 1900s, it was not taken seriously as an instrument, being used in vaudeville acts and as a substitute for violin in early dance bands. It wasn't until jazz musicians discovered this instrument, applying the attack and phrasing of the jazz trumpeters, that the sax was brought into the limelight. Artists such as Sidney Bechet, Johnny Hodges, and the inventive Coleman Hawknins, brought attention to the 1920s saxophone, refined in the 30s Lester Young and Charlie Parker. These artists experimented with the sounds, rhythms, harmonies and phrasing, giving the saxophone the reputation for solo spotlight it has today.

The saxophone comes in several varieties. The most familiar of these being the tenor sax. It's earthy, dramatic, tone is usually heard in the low register, however using the techniques pioneered by John Coltrane, its voice can be extended into the soprano range. The baritone saxophone requires extreme discipline, massive breath exertion and masterful diaphragm control. Its rumbling low end tones have a force and texture not heard from other instruments. The alto saxophone is a smaller version of the tenor, with a wide range of emotions that can be emitted from its bell. Sometimes light and flute-like, other times bittersweet and bluesy, its sound is the expressive, with the qualities of a vocal performer. The final version of the saxophone, varies in form from the other types. The soprano saxophone is shaped more like a clarinet and is much harder to play. It's light sound and difficult fingering has been mastered by few, however those who have, Steve Lacy and Wayne Shorter to name a few, are able to add a haunting melodic value to any tune.



The saxophone is made up of many intricate pieces woven together to work in partnership with each other. Being a reed instrument, of course it has a reed. This can be either plastic or wood and the softness or hardness of the reed determines the volume and tone. Choosing a reed is a matter of personal preference. The reed is surrounded by a mouth piece which can be either metal or rubber. Once again, it is the choice of the musician which mouthpiece to use, the metal giving a brighter sound and the rubber a dark, rich tone. This leads into the metal bell, shaped like a candy cane and flaring at the curved end. Holes in the straight section are covered by padded flaps which can be lifted by pressing "keys" attached to the body. Air is pushed through the instrument using circular breathing, supported by the diaphragm. Though the saxophone is a demanding instrument to learn, taking coordination and breathe control, the result is the ability to express your deepest emotion through music.

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