Woodwind Profile: Saxophone

Woodwind Profile: Saxophone

In honor of the Bands of America Grand National Championships this week, we pay homage to a popular woodwind instrument featured in many marching programs nationwide.

The saxophone is one of the most popular instruments in jazz music and one of the newest instruments in the woodwind family. It has many variations in size and pitch, which allow it to be a staple in many ensembles.

A Brief History

The inventor of this instrument was named Adolphe Sax. He developed the saxophone in the 1840s and patented it in June of 1846. Despite its older date of production, experts still see it as one of the newer woodwind instruments.

The first version of the saxophone that Sax used to earn the patent was made from wood. It has evolved since then, however, to be created primarily out of brass. Due to this element, a saxophone typically has a gold color, but it has developed many color variations ranging from rose gold, silver, and even black through the years.


One of the many beauties of a saxophone is the adaptability of its tone. A saxophone can easily fit into jazz, orchestral music, marches, and even pop songs.

Playing a particular type of saxophone also affects the tone. From highest to lowest pitches, the most used saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. A soprano saxophone looks like a clarinet, while a baritone (bari) is much larger and hits lower notes like an upright string bass. With such a wide range of pitches provided by these different instruments, the saxophone can work in many kinds of music.

How it Works

The sound from a saxophone, like other woodwinds, is made with the mouthpiece and reed. The various notes are created by pressing different combinations of keys.

As the player blows into the instrument, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece to make a note. Slight variations can impact the sound produced, such as reed thickness, mouthpiece material, and even the ligature used to hold the reed on the mouthpiece.

Where You’ve heard it

If you have ever listened to jazz, there’s a great chance you’ve heard a saxophone. For decades, the saxophone has been a core part of jazz music, and some famous jazz saxophonists include John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Sonny Rollins.

One of the ways the saxophone has worked its way into pop culture is through “Careless Whisper.” This George Michael song became iconic and a staple among young saxophonists and funny videos online.

One of the most recent appearances of the saxophone in pop culture is through the Disney Pixar movie “Soul.” This movie features a musician who spends time in a jazz venue with a saxophonist in the band.