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A Guide to the Saxophone
By Scott Sandberg
12/7/2010 11:12:00 AM
Scott Sandberg SaxaphoneSaxophonist Scott Sandberg is originally from Grand Forks, North Dakota.  From 2005-2007 he held the positions of Instructor of Saxophone at the Bloomingdale School of Music in New York City and Instructor of Woodwinds at Wright Music Studios in Port Washington, New York.  He was the Adjunct Instructor of Jazz at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, during the 2003-2004 academic year.  Sandberg has performed with the Dubuque Symphony, the Waverly Community Orchestra, the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, and the Dick King Classic Swing Band.  He has performed at several conferences of the North American Saxophone Alliance; toured Europe, including performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival; and was a finalist in the 2000 National MTNA Competition.  He received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree from the University of North Dakota and his Master of Arts degree in Saxophone Performance from the University of Iowa, and he is currently a Doctorate of Musical Arts candidate at the University of Iowa.


What to Look for in a Saxophone

One of the most important things to know when purchasing an instrument is that the process will take some time and research.  Instruments are an investment, and the effort will pay off in the long run.  Start by asking several musicians, including band directors, instrument sales associates, and local professionals their opinions on brands and models.  Even if they are not saxophonists, they will likely have general advice and know of major brands.  The Internet is also a good place to do research, but when purchasing an instrument it is best to go to a reputable retailer.Instrument Categories Saxophone makers generally divide their instruments into three main categories:  student, intermediate, and professional. 

Student level instruments are almost completely machine-made and are designed to take a little more wear and tear.  When trying out a student level instrument it should be fairly easy to make a sound, and it should have good mechanics, meaning that the keys should move freely. 

Intermediate level saxophones are made with more attention to detail, so the intonation (in tune versus out of tune) and tone should be better.  They may be more hand-made and are more delicate than student level instruments.  Intermediate level saxophones include a high F-sharp key, allowing the player to be able to play one note higher. 

Professional saxophones are much more hand-made and are produced with higher-quality materials.  This produces even better intonation, tone, and response, and also causes each instrument to be more individual.  The higher the quality of the instrument, the more important it is to try many, including multiple instruments of the same brand and model, to find the right one for you.  Professional saxophones also have the high F-sharp key. 


Instrument Materials

Most saxophones are made of brass with a lacquer coating.  Clear lacquer is the most common, while colored lacquers can be an option on some saxophones.  It is also possible to get an instrument that is plated in silver or gold.  There is much debate over how much, if any, the color of the lacquer or different plating options affect the sound of the instrument.


Parts of the Instrument

The biggest part of the saxophone is the body.  The neck strap attaches to a ring on the back of the body and holds the weight of the instrument.  The smaller, curved piece that fits into the top of the body is the neck.  The final three parts are the mouthpiece, which connects to the neck, the reed, and the ligature, which holds the reed onto the mouthpiece.  Often called the “setup,” these are the most important parts, as they generate the sound and thus have the biggest effect on response and tone.  With a good setup a player can make an average instrument sound great and a great instrument sound brilliant.  It is also worth noting that, in most cases, the quality of the mouthpiece and ligature provided do not equal the quality of the saxophone, so trying other mouthpieces, reeds, and ligatures can be a very worthwhile upgrade.


Other Important Features

The four most common saxophones, from highest to lowest in pitch, are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.  The most popular and the one that the majority of saxophonists start with is the alto.  The notes and fingerings used for one saxophone are the same for all, so if you can play alto saxophone, you can essentially play the others. 




Tags: saxophone, buying a saxophone
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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