What Sizes Do Saxophones Come In?

Written by: Mardell Pixton

There are 14 different types of saxophones, and they all vary in sizes. Some sizes are quite small, like the alto sax. Those tend to be nice for beginners. Saxophones are great instruments for children and young learners. Unlike the flute and trumpet, they are easier to learn and are much more accommodating for newbies. They're a widely used instrument in the wind family, made even more popular by Jazz.

The saxophone might be a little expensive in comparison to other musical instruments, however, it is still affordable. Furthermore, they are available in a wide variety of styles, granting them some versatility. Their different sizes can often define the type of tone and sound they produce.

Thus, the amazing versatility of the sax allows you to play with a variety of different pitches and modes from raucous to bright and from cheerful to peaceful. While it may be inviting to learn all of the different types of saxophones, most musicians focus on mastering only one.

As a beginner, it is important for you to know which sizes of the saxophone are available and what is the major difference between them. This can help you decide which size is perfect for you.

Saxophone Sizes

Soprano Saxophone

Due to the small size of the instrument, the soprano sax is less expensive than some of the other types. Since it requires fewer materials to make, you’ll find it to be the least costly. This might attract a lot of beginners, but the Soprano isn’t recommended for beginners. It is difficult to learn as it has a higher pitch.

The Soprano uses the B flat key and is the smallest in the entire family. It either has bells that curve upwards or is perfectly straight, like a clarinet. Thus, staying in tune is much more difficult and beginners will find themselves struggling with a Soprano.

To learn the Soprano, it is imperative that you master your mouth position and embouchure. This includes the tongue position, mouth shape, lip position, and breath movement. On the other hand, most expert users seem to enjoy the complexity the Soprano seems to bring. Moreover, it produces a rich sound that fits well with orchestras and bands.

Alto Saxophone

a man playing his alto saxophone

Alto saxophones are the medium-sized saxophones that are perhaps the most popular size. They are tuned to the E flat key and are an octave higher than the Tenor Saxophone. They are just over two feet long and perfect for beginners. The reason? They require less air and have a more compact key layout which is easily accessible.

Another positive is that they are affordable due to the small build. In fact, there are quite a number of alto saxophones on the market that are viable options.

Check out our buying guide and reviews for the best alto saxophones

Their popularity also stems from the ability of alto players to easily transition to other saxophones. In a way, an alto can be a stepping stone for all kinds of saxophonists.

Even those who want to expand their skills and build up their breath power will highly benefit from the sax. In addition, we recommend you not to be too impressed by the price. Always remember that the craftsmanship and the materials play a significant role in the instrument’s tone and durability.

If your instrument doesn’t stay in tune, it will be much harder to play. If it breaks easily, it can be quite discouraging to young students. Thus, we recommend you choose one at a decent price with high-quality materials and build.

Tenor Saxophone

The Tenor Saxophone is tuned to the key of B flat. It measures about 3 feet and is longer than the Alto. Generally, the Tenor has a deeper tone which makes it perfect for Jazz music. In fact, it is most commonly associated with that genre. On the other hand, if you’re familiar with the Tenor, you can probably play it to make it sound a little brighter.

The mouthpiece is much larger than the Alto and the tone holes are longer as well. The main distinguishing factor of the Tenor is the small dip in its neck. It might be larger than the Alto, but it is still not too large. This makes it easier for beginners to play.

Nevertheless, due to its intricate structure, it is important that the instrument is well-built and uses the highest quality materials.

Baritone Saxophone

Baritone saxophones are the largest of all four saxophones. They are popular for their deep and honking tones that allow you to add more soul to your music. Furthermore, these are tuned to E flat and are perfect for those starting out. They play an octave lower than the Alto. 

They are easier to move around, but beginners might struggle in reaching their wide set of keys. In fact, some models have a strap attached to them that makes it easier for the players to position themselves.

The baritone Sax weighs about 35 pounds so you won’t often find it in marching bands or solos. It includes a lacquered brass construction, which grants added durability.

Other Members of the Sax Family

These four are the most common types of saxophones in the musical industry. Apart from these, there are six others, which are:

  • Sopranino
  • Melody Soprano
  • Contrabass
  • Sub-Contrabass
  • Bass
  • C Melody

How to Choose the Perfect Size Saxophone

With so many saxophone sizes, you might be confused about which one to choose. The main selection criteria includes the tone and the experience level. As a beginner, you might want to stay away from the Soprano. The Alto Sax will suit you perfectly. It is easy to handle and you can easily transition to other Saxophones after mastering it.

More experienced players who need more complex tones might be better off with a Baritone or the Soprano. Whatever the case, just ensure that you can easily handle the weight and size of the sax. Another important factor is the build and quality. If you buy one with cheap materials, your tones might suffer. We always recommend going for a high-quality brand.

Parting Notes

All in all, the saxophone is a great wind instrument for beginners. It requires less air than other wind instruments such as the trumpet and the clarinet. It never fails to produce a beautiful melody. Choosing the perfect size might be a tough task, but it is indefinitely easier once you know the benefits and drawbacks of each. So, which will you choose?

Written By:
Mardell is a professional saxophone player in a band and a private instructor on the side. He actively writes for MSpot sharing his insightful knowledge of woodwind instruments.

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