Most beginners will start on the alto saxophone. As musicians advance, though, there are 9 different types to choose from, including the tenor, soprano, and baritone. It is a versatile instrument and popular among jazz musicians. It is considered cool to play the saxophone because of its romantic tones.
How Easy is the Saxophone to Learn?
The saxophone, fairly new to the orchestra, has a fingering system that beginners find fairly easy to understand. The is partly why the sax is considered one of the easier woodwind instruments to learn. Other woodwind instruments include the clarinet and the flute. A Bb soprano is the smallest of the saxophones to handle but has the more unique sound of all the saxophones and so is the hardest to control when it comes to intonation. This explains why the alto is the one that is started on, albeit playing from a different clef than the piano. This does not matter when you are playing solo and not trying to create harmonies with another instrument in a different key.
History of the Saxophone
The saxophone, invented in 1846, is not that old as instruments go. It was invented by Adolphe Sax, hence the name. He was a Belgian instrument maker. His mission was to invent an instrument that would fill in the gaps between the woodwind and brass instruments of the orchestra. We will find out later how good the saxophone is at filling in gaps in musical compositions.
Saxophones in the Movies
The saxophone was famously played to the opening credits of the Pink Panther movie. The cartoon character created by David DePatie and Friz Freleng for the film’s opening credits was animated in time to the music. The tenor saxophone soloist was Plas John Johnson jr. of Donaldsonville, Louisiana, USA. He was an American soul-jazz player. The theme was composed by Henry Mancini. This movie association has to be one of the reasons why the saxophone is so popular an instrument today. The fact that the instrument is capable of bending notes is evident during the performance of “The Pink Panther Theme”.
Some movies actually about saxophone players include the biopic Bird (1988), also Let’s Get Lost (1988), and Mo’s Better Blues (1990). Those who are interested in American saxophonist Charlie Parker (whose life history was played out) and Clint Eastwood (who acted it out) will fall in love with watching the movie Bird.
Saxophones in the Pop Charts
The saxophonist in the group Madness is Lee Thompson. He founded the group with Mike Barson and Chris Foreman in 1976, and wrote their debut single “Prince”, as well as co-writing “Embarrassment”, “House of Fun”, and “Uncle Sam”. He not only plays the saxophone but also the flute, trumpet, and flugelhorn. This is the case for many saxophonists who will play a range of instruments that are blown to produce their sound. It makes them more versatile as a musician, just as the saxophone is as an instrument.
Raphael Ravenscroft played the eight-bar saxophone solo on Gerry Rafferty’s hit “Baker Street”, proving how good saxophones are for solo breaks within musical compositions. The saxophone used for this was the alto sax. It is reputed that the song had several gaps which Ravenscroft would fill and that he came up with the riff.
The saxophone solo on Spandau Ballet’s “True”, according to Steve Norman who played it on tenor sax, was a composite of two takes. It fits perfectly with the mood of the love song that Gary Kemp is supposed to have written for a singer he was having a platonic relationship with.
So, it is not difficult to see why musicians have such a love affair with the saxophone. It is one of the easier instruments to learn in the first place, versatile enough to be used for film and pop music, and perfect for creating a solo section in a musical composition that then becomes the section the tune is most remembered for.