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Saxophone Basics

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Saxophone Basics

bestsaxophoneThe saxophone (also referred to as the sax) is a conical-bore, transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846. He wanted to create an instrument that would be the most powerful and vocal of the woodwinds, and the most adaptive of the brass—that would fill the vacant middle ground between the two sections. He patented the sax on June 28, 1846 in two groups of seven instruments each. Each series consisted of instruments of various sizes in alternating transposition. The series pitched in B and E, designed for military bands, has proved extremely popular and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. Instruments from the so-called "orchestral" series pitched in C and F never gained a foothold. While proving very popular in military band music, the saxophone is most commonly associated with jazz and classical music. There is substantial repertoire of concert music in the classical idiom for the members of the saxophone family. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

Saxophone History

pppThe saxophone was developed in 1846 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian-born instrument maker, flautist, and clarinetist working in Paris. While still working at his father's instrument shop in Brussels, Sax began developing an instrument with the projection of a brass instrument and the agility of a woodwind. He wanted the instrument to overblow at the octave, unlike the clarinet, which rises in pitch by a twelfth when overblown. An instrument that overblew at the octave would have identical fingering for both registers.

 Saxophone Description

The saxophone consists of an approximately conical tube of thin brass, sometimes plated with silver, gold, or nickel, flared at the tip to form a bell. At intervals along the tube are between 20 and 23 tone holes of varying size, including two very small 'speaker' holes to assist the playing of the upper register. These holes are covered by keys (also known as pad cups), containing soft leather pads, which are closed to produce an airtight seal; at rest some of the holes stand open and others are closed. The keys are controlled by buttons pressed by the fingers, while the right thumb sits under a thumb rest to help keep the saxophone balanced. The fingering for the saxophone is a combination of that of the oboe with the Boehm system, and is very similar to the flute or the upper register of the clarinet. Instruments that play to low A have a left thumb key for that note. bestsaxophoneThe simplest design of saxophone is a straight conical tube, and the sopranino and soprano saxophones are usually of this straight design. However, as the lower-pitched instruments would be unacceptably long if straight, for ergonomic reasons, the larger instruments usually incorporate a U-bend at, or slightly above, the third-lowest tone hole. As this would cause the bell of the instrument to point almost directly upward, the end of the instrument is either beveled or tilted slightly forward. This U-shape has become an iconic feature of the saxophone family, to the extent that soprano and even sopranino saxes are sometimes made in the curved style, even though not strictly necessary. By contrast, tenors and even baritones have occasionally been made in the straight style. Most commonly, however, the alto and tenor saxophones incorporate a curved 'crook' above the highest tone hole but below the top speaker hole, tilting the mouthpiece through 90 degrees; the baritone, bass and contrabass extend the length of the bore by triple-folding this section.

Saxophone Materials

Most saxophones, both past and present, are made from brass. Despite this, they are categorized as woodwind instruments rather than brass, as the sound waves are produced by an oscillating reed, not the player's lips against a mouthpiece as in a brass instrument, and because different pitches are produced by opening and closing keys. The screw pins that connect the rods to the posts, as well as the needle and leaf springs that cause the keys to return to their rest position after being released, are generally made of blued or stainless steel. Since 1920, most saxophones have 'key touches' (smooth decorative pieces placed where the fingers touch the instrument) made from either plastic or mother of pearl. bestsaxophoneOther materials have been tried with varying degrees of success, such as the 1950s Grafton plastic alto saxophone. There is also the wooden Sawat saxophone created in Thailand on a small scale. A few companies, such as Yanagisawa and Bauhaus Walstein, have made some saxophone models from phosphor bronze because of its slightly different tonal qualities. For example, although their designs are identical apart from the metal used, the bronze Yanagisawa A992 saxophones are said to sound "darker" than the brass versions. Yanagisawa and other manufacturers, starting with the King Super 20 around 1950, have made saxophone necks, bells, or entire instruments from sterling silver.[16] Keilwerth and P. Mauriat have made saxes with a nickel silver body like that of a flute. The effect of material on sound is controversial among sax players, and little solid research has been published. After completing the instrument, the manufacturers usually apply a thin coating of clear or colored acrylic lacquer, or silver plate, over the bare brass. The lacquer or plating serves to protect the brass from oxidation, and maintains its shiny appearance. Several different types and colors of surface finish have been used over the years. It is also possible to plate the instrument with nickel or gold, and a number of gold-plated saxophones have been produced. Plating saxophones with gold is an expensive process because gold does not adhere directly to brass. As a result, the brass is first plated with silver, then gold. Some argue that the type of lacquer or plating, or absence thereof, may enhance an instrument's tone quality. The possible effects of different finishes on tone is a hotly debated topic, not least because other variables may affect an instrument's tone colors e.g. mouthpiece design and physical characteristics of the player. In any case, what constitutes a pleasing tone is a matter of personal preference.

Saxophone Mouthpiece and reed

bestsaxophoneThe saxophone uses a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. Most saxophonists use reeds made from Arundo donax cane, but since the 20th century some have also been made of fiberglass and other composite materials. The saxophone mouthpiece is larger than that of the clarinet, has a wider inner chamber, and lacks the cork-covered tenon of a clarinet mouthpiece because the saxophone neck inserts into the mouthpiece whereas the clarinet mouthpiece piece is inserted into the barrel. The most important difference between a saxophone embouchure and a clarinet embouchure is that the saxophone mouthpiece should enter the mouth at a much lower or flatter angle than the clarinet. The embouchure for clarinet must also be more firm than that for saxophone. The muscles in the lip and jaw develop naturally, the more one plays, and the "long tones" exercise helps a great deal with this aspect of playing. Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including vulcanized rubber (sometimes called rod rubber or ebonite), plastic, and metals such as bronze or surgical steel. Less common materials that have been used for a saxophone include wood, glass, crystal, porcelain, and even bone. According to Larry Teal, the mouthpiece material has little, if any, effect on the sound, and the physical dimensions give a mouthpiece its tone colour.

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June 12th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

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