top of page


What's a Saxophone?

The saxophone (referred to colloquially as the sax) is a woodwind instrument usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece. Although most saxophones are made from brass, they are categorized as woodwind instruments, because sound is produced by an oscillating reed, traditionally made out of woody cane, rather than lips vibrating in a mouthpiece cup as with the brass instrument family. As with the other woodwind instruments, the pitch of the note being played is controlled by covering holes in the body tube to control the resonant frequency of the air column by changing the effective length of the tube. The player covers or uncovers the holes by pressing keys.

The saxophone is used in classical music (such as concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, and, occasionally, orchestras), military bands, marching bands, jazz (such as big bands and jazz combos), and contemporary music. The saxophone is also used as a solo and melody instrument or as a member of a horn section in some styles of rock and roll and popular music. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

Design Feature

The straight soprano and sopranino saxophones consist of a straight conical tube with a flared bell at the end opposite the mouthpiece. Alto and larger saxophones include a detachable curved neck above the highest tone hole, directing the mouthpiece to the player's mouth and, with rare exceptions, a U-shaped bow that directs the bore upward and a curve in the throat of the bell directing it forward. The set of curves near the bell has become a distinctive feature of the saxophone family, to the extent that soprano and even sopranino saxes are sometimes made in the curved style. The baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones accommodate the length of the bore with extra bows and right-angle bends between the main body and the mouthpiece.

The left hand operates keys from the upper part of the body tube while the right hand operates keys from the lower part. The right thumb sits under a thumb hook and left thumb is placed on a thumb rest to stabilize and balance the saxophone, while the weight of most saxophones is shared by the right thumb and a neckstrap attached to a strap ring on the rear of the body of the instrument. With the smaller instruments, relatively more of the weight is supported by the thumb. The left thumb operates the octave key.

Keys consist of the cups, levers, and pivots that control the position of the pads over the toneholes. At rest, some keys are open and some are closed, held in position by springs that are overridden by finger or hand (palm keys) pressure. The keys are activated by pressure on key touches, either directly on the pad cup or connected to it with levers, either directly or with joints called linkages. The levers between the key cups and the pivots are called key arms.

The fingering for the saxophone is a combination of that of the oboe with the Boehm system and is similar to the flute or upper register of the clarinet.

Mouthpiece and Reed

The saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. Each size of saxophone (alto, tenor, etc.) uses a different size of reed and mouthpiece.


Most saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo donax cane, but since middle of the twentieth century some have also been made of fiberglass and other composite materials. Saxophone reeds are proportioned slightly differently from clarinet reeds, being wider for the same length. Reeds are commercially available in a vast array of brands, styles, and strengths. Saxophonists experiment with reeds of different strength (hardnesses) and material to find which strength and cut suits their mouthpiece, embouchure, physiology, and playing style.

Famous People who played the saxophone:

  • Jennifer Garner (“Alias”)

  • Bill Clinton (former U.S. President)

  • Trent Reznor (lead singer for Nine Inch Nails)

  • Roy Williams (NFL Dallas Cowboys)

  • Vince Carter (NBA Star)

  • David Robinson (Retired NBA Star)

  • Tedi Bruschi (NFL New England Patriots)

  • Bob Hope (late comedian/actor)

  • Lionel Richie (singer, father of Nicole Richie)

  • Tom Selleck (actor from “Magnum PI”)

  • Trombone

  • Bill Engvall (Blue Collar Comedy Tour)

  • Nelly Furtado (singer)

  • Tony Stewart (NASCAR Driver)


Do you reed a lot?
Then Sax will be perfect!

bottom of page