In addition to the four commonly known saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), the sax family actually has five other siblings: the sopranissimo (or soprillo), sopranino, bass, contra bass and subcontra bass saxophones.
Although you might not see these other saxophones played regularly (or maybe ever!), they do exist. The sopranissimo saxophone’s range is exactly one octave higher than the soprano saxophone, and the subcontra bass saxophone’s range is a whopping two octaves below the tenor saxophone. This is probably why we don’t see (or hear) them very often. The inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, also created the C and F saxophones which are extremely uncommon today.
The standard saxophone has 23 keys
That’s a lot of keys! Some of these keys are played with the fingertips, and some of them are played with the palms of the hand. Because you can’t see your hands when you play the saxophone (unless you’re looking in a mirror), muscle memory is very important. Some saxophones are manufactured with a high F# or high G key, and many baritone saxophones come with a low A key.
Saxophone reeds are made out of the plant Arundo donax, which is considered an invasive plant in the US.
The plant is native to the Mediterranean Basin and middle east Asia, but was widely planted in subtropical regions of California to be used as roofing material. It is one of the fastest-growing terrestrial plants on Earth (up to 10 cm per day!), so even though it is tenacious, at least we won’t be running out of reeds anytime soon.
There is such a thing as a slide saxophone
...but you probably won’t see this very often, if ever. It was a quirky invention of the early 20th century, and it never really caught on. It was apparently created by a man by the name of Lawrence Leo “Snub” Mosley, who was primarily a trombone player. It can be played with either a saxophone mouthpiece or a trombone mouthpiece.
Saxophone mouthpieces are made out of a variety of materials, not just hard rubber and metal
Hard rubber (or ebonite) mouthpieces are very common, along with metal mouthpieces (and plastic if you’ve just bought your first student model horn). Saxophone mouthpieces are also sometimes made out of wood which gives the saxophone a warm tone, and even crystal which gives the saxophone a very bright sound with excellent projection.
About the author
Laura Ouellette is a Conservatory of Music program manager by day and sax performing band member by night.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.