The Saxophone Family
When Adolphe Sax first patented the musical instruments that were later to become the saxophone family, they included the alto, tenor, soprano, baritone, sopranino, bass, contrabass and sub contrabass (not all of these were produced by Sax however, some being only patented and designed by him and produced later on). In the next decades a lot of instruments based on these were produced, thus widening the sax family. These include the soprillo, the tubax, the F-key mezzo soprano or the C melody saxophone (aka C-key tenor).
At first, all members of the sax family shared a similar level of usage, especially in military (Sax’s main design goal was to produce musical instruments for military bands in the first place) and large orchestral bands. In time however, some members gained popularity while others faded out and are now rarely used.
Today, the most popular saxophone is the alto. It’s the instrument of choice for most teachers since it is easier to adapt to for students. In addition, the alto saxophone is very popular with classical composers and performers, thus learning these implies learning how to play on an alto. After students become more familiar and comfortable with the alto they usually try out “advancing” to one of the more complex (and harder to play) instruments of the saxophone family, such as the tenor, baritone or even soprano. It is of course, possible to start learning these directly, however the above stepwise advancement is common practice at most music schools.
And while the alto, baritone, tenor or soprano have had their fair share of glory, we can’t say the same for other members of the sax family. The sopranino for example, the smallest of “brothers” did not make the cut into the big musical scene. Today, the sopranino is produced by few musical instrument manufacturers and is rarely used in bands or orchestras. The above-mentioned companies usually produce sopraninos because its small, flashy looks are appealing to collectors.
Regardless of what “member” of the saxophone family you decide to practice with, you will soon find out that there is large diversity in the ranks of a single member too. Constant technological and manufacturing improvements have been made to modern day musical instruments so the brand of the instrument will also be important. But what may sound heavenly to someone, might be a completely bad performance to someone else, so in the end, the choice is yours and yours only.
Saxophone Family homepage.