The saxophone was invented in 1841 by a Belgian called Adolphe Sax. Its sound is produced using a reed and so even though it’s made of metal it’s also part of the woodwind family. Although it was adopted by some composers as part of the orchestra, it gained more popularity in military bands due to its big sound, and was later made famous by great jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.
The saxophone family consists of seven instruments, but the most popular beginners instruments are the alto (E flat) and tenor saxophones (B flat). Due to the size and fingering, the minimum age to start learning is around 8 years for the alto and a little older for the tenor.
As saxophone reeds are made of cane they will wear and split with use, so it’s a good idea to buy a few replacement reeds as they are relatively inexpensive, and can be bought either individually or in boxes of 10.
If you’re a beginner, then start with softer reeds marked from ‘1½’ to ‘2½’, which make it easier to produce a more even tone and pitch.
Like all instruments they require a little care so it’s best to make sure you have a good case or padded gig bag, a saxophone stand and leather sling to put around your neck. A polishing cloth is also a really useful accessory to have.
The saxophone can be a little taxing at first especially for young players. You will feel its weight around your neck and a buildup of pressure on your lower lip and face as your muscles adjust to the playing technique. Taken moderately these soon pass and playing becomes comfortable.
Some buying tips
Tip 1. Ask your teacher which brand or model they recommend you should buy, plus which type i.e. alto or tenor, as they are all different sizes.
Tip 2. Before you buy, check to see if you can use the side and palm keys. They are designed to fall easily to hand for adults but younger players should check they have the reach and spread of fingers.
Tip 3. Remember that in addition to the saxophone itself you will have to buy reeds and some of the other accessories mentioned above.
Tip 4. The instrument should have an even touch, the larger pads covering the tone holes should sit snuggly and close firmly. The keys themselves should be comfortable to touch, they should be smooth but not slippery. The lacquer finish should be without blemish.