Saxophone Types – A Complete Guide for Sax Players

The saxophone is probably one of the most interesting and all-around musical instrument which is used these days.

saxophone types musician
Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash


The Sax was initially designed with the intention of filling a niche between the brass and the woodwind instruments due to its success it has since created a new market which has also found many uses in with special musical purposes from Jazz to symphony orchestras as well as military bands.

The sax is by far one of the most easily known musical instruments by both the sound it produces and by its sight, and its exclusive character has made it a preferred and most wanted instrument with many musicians worldwide.


Although there are actually nine different saxophone types, the two most popular and well known which are used by the more famous musicians are the Alto sax and the Tenor Saxophone.


If you are making your first steps into the “Sax” world and you are thinking about purchasing one, you should become familiar with all the musical instruments that compose the saxophone music family. That being said, you will probably end up with either the “Alto” or the “Tenor” Saxophones.


Any future sax players must also familiarize themselves and be able to recognize the particulars and specifications to look out for in a high-quality saxophone. This detailed research will review the saxophone market, what to look for in a saxophone, and how and where to purchase one safely online.



“I Love My Sax”



The Different  Saxophone Types

As we have mentioned earlier, you will find that there are various Saxophones types available as you can probably see in the list underneath.


These saxophones are all members of the equivalent musical instrument family called the “Woodwind Instruments” and the main difference apart from shapes and sizes is that they each consist of and emit their own very characteristic sound and pitch.


Sopranino saxophone

Soprano saxophone

Alto saxophone

Tenor saxophone

Baritone saxophone.

Bass saxophone.

Contrabass saxophone.

Subcontrabass saxophone.



What Are The Main Differences In These Saxophone Types?


sopranissimo saxophoneThe Sopranissimo saxophone is the smallest sax ever made and is very rare, you will not see too many of them around. It has a non-curved design and due to its size, it is extremely difficult to play.

Although it may look like the sopranino and soprano, it is much smaller in size.

As for the sound: It is one octave above the soprano saxophone.



sopranino saxophoneSopranino

The sopranino is also a small sax but it is popular and is the smallest frequently used saxophone, it has a non-curved design like its smaller family member the sopranissimo.

As for the sound: It is one octave above the alto saxophone



Soprano SaxophoneSoprano

The soprano sax is the most popular and most used sax among the straight saxophones in use. It is the smallest full-featured saxophone, which basically means it has all the features of all the other well-known instruments. This too usually has a non-curved design although there are models with a curve at the base/end of the sax.

As for the sound: It is one octave above tenor saxophone



Alto SaxophoneAlto

The Alto saxophone is the most commonly used type of saxophone. It is largely used in classical compositions but has also been used to play other types of music. The alto has the famous saxophone curved design we all know and love.

As for its sound: It is one octave above the baritone saxophone



Tenor SaxophoneTenor

The tenor saxophone is the most familiar and widespread type of saxophone next to the alto saxophone. These are the instruments most musicians use with the tenor being the popular sax with the jazz musicians. It also has that curve design which is characteristic of saxophones.

As for its sound: It is one octave above the bass saxophone.



baritone saxophoneBaritone

The baritone saxophone is the lowest pitched saxophone which is in common use today. It is mainly used and very popular with the military bands and is not usually used in Jazz It has that familiar curved design look of the alto but with a very distinctive curve at the top of the instrument that differentiates it from the other types of saxophones.

As for its sound: It is one octave above contrabass saxophone



bass saxophoneBass

The bass saxophone is the first saxophone to be developed. It has a large design and it is not commonly used. This also has a curved design.

As for its sound: It is one octave above subcontrabass saxophone.


Contrabass saxophoneContrabass  

The contrabass saxophone is the largest sax of them all. It also produces the lowest pitch of the woodwind sax family. It is very rarely used. This instrument also has a curved design.

As for its sound: It is one octave below baritone saxophone



subcontrabass saxophone


There is not much that can be written about the subcontrabass saxophone. It has a modified design, it is very rare and hardly used.

It also has a curved design.

As for its sound: It is one octave below bass saxophone




Which Are The Most Common Saxophone Types?

There are four saxophone types which are the most common in this “Woodwind Instruments” family and they are the baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and the soprano saxophone with the Alto and Tenor being the most popular.


The other brands of saxophones that you will come across comprise of the Sopranino, Bass, Contrabass and the Sub-contrabass, nevertheless you could also stumble upon them in other names such as The C-melody saxophone, the bass saxophone, the C soprano, the F baritone, and the F mezzo-soprano.


The Leading Four Saxophones Types


This is the most familiar and widespread type of saxophone you will find. This is usually used in classical types of music. The Alto has a curved design and sounds wise it is one octave above the baritone saxophone.


The alto saxophone is also called the alto sax, it is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments which were invented by the Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, which was also later patented in 1846.


To those musicians among you, the Alto Sax is pitched in E♭ and is smaller than the tenor, but larger than the soprano. The alto saxophone is the most widespread saxophone and it is usually used in Jazz, in solo repertoires, marching bands, concert bands, chamber music and military bands.


Regardless of which type of sax you end up choosing, you should know that the fingerings of the different saxophones are all similar which means that as a sax player you could play any one of the saxophones types.





Similar to the Alto saxophone the Tenor is also among the most regularly used type of saxophone. It is very popular with the jazz musicians, hence its popularity among the younger and beginner musicians.


It also has a curved design and to the sound, it is one octave above Bass saxophone. Size wise, the tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the sax family. The main difference between the tenor saxophone and the alto and soprano saxophones is that it uses a bigger reed, mouthpiece, and ligature.


The tenor sax is simply distinguished visually by the bend in its neck, (or its crook as its better known) in front of the mouthpiece. The alto saxophone is different because its neck goes directly to the mouthpiece. The tenor saxophone has the amazing ability to blend well with the soprano, alto and baritone saxophones with the jagged yet clear and brilliant tone. This ability is what makes this sax one of the musicians favorite musical instruments.




The baritone saxophone which is also called the “Bari Sax”, is one of the biggest relative of the sax family, the only other instruments larger than the baritone sax are the bass, contrabass, and subcontrabass, the Bari is the slightly smaller than them.


It is, however, larger than the alto, soprano and the tenor saxophones, which are the additional normally found members of this group.


The baritone saxophone has a low pitch saxophone and it is the most commonly used. The baritone sax also uses a mouthpiece, reed, and ligature to help the musician create the sound.


The baritone saxophone is most frequently in use for classical music in places such as concert bands, chamber music, and military bands and in big jazz combo bands. It is always used as a part of a larger band and will not usually be used as an on its own as a solo instrument to produce music.




The soprano saxophone is different from its other “Woodwind Instruments”  family members due to the higher note range that it plays as opposed to all the others. The soprano comes in at third place in its range from highest to lowest with the sopranino sax and the soprillo sax on its tail.


There is a range of different kinds of saxophones with the Soprano Sax being one of them, which have stimulated some of the supreme musical talents of our time to create music of their own and sweep music lovers off their feet.


Some of the best music and songs produced could not have made their mark without these excellent musical instruments. There are many types of music such as Jazz and rhythm and blues that have embraced the Soprano Sax and have made as one of their own.


Furthermore, the soprano sax’s overall design and the look is also relatively different than the Tenor or an alto saxophone for example, because of its straight design.


The soprano saxophone is also known as a higher-register variety of the saxophone woodwind family musical instrument.



These Are The Other Saxophone Types:


The sopranino saxophone is one of the smallest sax types in the woodwind family. For the musicians among you, the sopranino is tuned to the key of E♭. Sound wise it is an octave higher than the alto sax.

The sopranino saxophone has a great soft resonance and even though it is one of the less familiar of the saxophones which are used by musicians these days, which is why only a few of the main musical manufacturers are still producing them.

Because of their small size, the sopranino saxophones are not typically curved like the others, but a company called Orsi do make the curved sopranino saxophones.



The bass saxophone was the first saxophone type ever which was presented to the general music scene. It is one of the biggest members of the woodwind family and it is also bigger than the more frequently known and used baritone saxophone.

The contemporary, current bass saxophone is a transposing musical instrument, sound wise it is pitched in B♭ which is an octave below the tenor saxophone. You will not come across the bass sax too much as it is not generally used in any modern music. It was much more popular in the 1920s jazz recordings, in some free jazz, and in some choirs.



The contrabass saxophone is an extremely large instrument. Its tubing is twice the length of the baritone saxophone and with a bore which is twice as wide. How big may you ask? Well, it stands at six feet 4 inches, or 1.9 meters tall, that’s big.

Due to its size, it is also heavy one of the heaviest musical instruments around and weighs in at approximately 45 pounds or 20 kilograms.

The sound it produces is pitched in the key of E♭, one octave below the baritone saxophone and it is the second-lowest-pitched sax member of the woodwind family.


Sub Contrabass

The subcontrabass saxophone is not the type of musical instrument you will come across frequently. This was a saxophone that its designer patented and planned to build but never assembled, at least way back then.

It is known as a transposing instrument (this simply means that it is different from the pitch that actually sounds) pitched in B♭, which is one octave below the bass saxophone, two octaves below the tenor saxophone, and three octaves and a major second below its written pitch.



Types Of Saxophone Video



Some Saxophone facts

A saxophone is a musical instrument that is made of brass and frequently just called a “sax”. Not many people know this but the sax was originally designed around the clarinet which is why it has many similar characteristics that the clarinet has which is first and foremost because the musician blows into a reed integrally fixed into the mouthpiece of the musical instrument.

Because they are made from brass they are frequently referred to as a brass section together with the true brass instruments like the trombone and the trumpet. That being said, because the sax has a reed and without it, no music can be made, it is rather a member of the woodwind family of instruments and not a true brass instrument.


The Transpositional Family of Instruments

The saxophone family, being a part of the woodwind family, which is also better known as a transpositional family of instruments. This is mainly because of the fact that each saxophones keys are the same and as a musician, you don’t have to adjust or modify your fingers when playing different ones.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the bigger and better-known bands and famous musicians always used these instruments.


The Saxophone Types and Their Pitch

As we can see from the review above, there are quite a few different saxophones types. Each one has a distinctive sound and pitch that makes it different from one another and each sax is usually used for different music types ranging from Jazz to Classical music.


Their order from low to high pitch are as follows:

  1. Tubax
  2. Contrabass
  3. Bass
  4. Baritone
  5. Tenor
  6. Alto
  7. Soprano
  8. Sopranino
  9. Soprillo


Although there are many different saxophones types, there are only a few which are commonly used and they are the:

  • Baritone
  • Tenor
  • Alto
  • Soprano


Top 10 Saxophone Solos in Pop and Rock



If you are a beginner sax musician and you are looking to buy a really great first sax than you must read the review on the best beginner saxophone types which is the Alto Saxophone Review. It is the easiest instrument to handle and play.

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