Baritone saxophone

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Baritone saxophone
Baritone Saxophone Amati.png
Woodwind instrument
Classification Single-reed
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.212-71
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s) Adolphe Sax
Playing range
Baritone saxophone
Baritone saxophone in E♭ sounds an octave and a major sixth lower than written. Many models have keys for low C (written low A) and high F♯.
Related instruments
Orchestral saxophones:
Specialty saxophones:
See list of saxophonists

The baritone saxophone (sometimes abbreviated to "bari sax") is a member of the saxophone family of instruments, larger (and lower-pitched) than the tenor saxophone, but smaller (and higher-pitched) than the bass. It is the lowest-pitched saxophone in common use - the bass, contrabass and subcontrabass saxophones are relatively uncommon. Like all saxophones, it is a single-reed instrument. It is commonly used in concert bands, chamber music, military bands, big bands, and jazz combos. It can also be found in other ensembles such as rock bands and marching bands. Modern baritone saxophones are pitched in E.



The baritone saxophone was created in 1846 by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax as one of a family of 14 instruments. Sax believed these instruments would provide a useful tonal link between the woodwinds and brasses. The family was divided into two groups of seven saxophones each, from the soprano to the contrabass. Though a design for an F baritone saxophone is included in the C and F family of saxophones, no known F baritones exist. [1] The family consisting of saxophones in the keys of B and E was more successful because of their popularity in military bands. [2]

All saxophones were originally keyed to low B, but a low B mechanism was patented in 1887 [3] and by 1910 this was standard for most saxophones including baritones. This low B is a concert D on baritone saxophone, and players began creating 'low A pipes' to insert into the bell to extend the range to the very useful concert C just below that (low A on the baritone sax). This made the low B inaccessible and low B out of tune. [4] This method is still used today by some players. [5] From the 1930s through the 1950s, manufacturers experimented with extending the bell to add a low A key to the instrument. The simplest way was to add a cylindrical section between the bell and bow to provide the extra length and tone hole, and some makers produced and sold instruments built this way, but these horns generally suffer from intonation problems in the lowest few notes and players often consider their tone poor as well. Selmer Paris began producing low A versions of the Mark VI baritone saxophone in the late 1950s which had a bell that had been designed separately from the low B version (such a bell may have been a custom-order option before this time), and these instruments do not generally suffer from the same intonation problems as horns with a cylindrical extension. In the 1970s, Yamaha's YBS-61 was keyed to low A with no low B option, and by the 1980s most baritones were being manufactured with a low A bell. In modern times, only a few manufacturers still produce low B instruments, as the low A is considered standard and is often written in sheet music for the instrument.

In its original form, the baritone saxophone's highest keyed note was high E, but instruments keyed to high F became standard during the 1920s. High F became a rare option starting in the 1950s and slowly became more common, but as with other modern saxophones, most baritones are now manufactured with a high F key.


The baritone saxophone, like other saxophones, is a conical tube of thin brass. It has a wider end, flared to form a bell, and a smaller end connected to a mouthpiece. The baritone saxophone uses a single reed mouthpiece like that of a clarinet. There is a loop in the top of the body (sometimes also known as the 'pigtail') in two U-shaped pieces of tube called the upper bow and spit bow, to reduce it to a practical height.

Baritone saxophones are typically found in two versions with one ranging to low A and the other to low B. [6] Despite the ubiquity of the low A horn, some players still prefer to use B horns because of the added weight of a low A bell [5] or because of personal preference for a particular vintage instrument. Some also believe low A horns sound inferior in the low range, [5] however this is the subject of debate among players.

The baritone saxophone's relatively large mass (11 to 20 pounds or 5.0 to 9.1 kilograms, depending on the manufacturer's choice of material and structural designs, and whether it has a low A key) has led to the development of harness-style alternatives to neck straps which distribute the instrument's weight across the user's shoulders. [7] Several different kinds exist which each distribute weight differently across the saxophonist's neck, clavicle, and shoulder blades. Many marching saxophonists prefer this style for its ability to decrease fatigue. Those who mainly perform seated, on the other hand, may dislike the decreased ability to move one's upper body with a harness. [7] Some modern instruments are also produced with mounts for floor pegs to reduce weight on the player's neck when seated, similar to those found on bass clarinets.


It is a transposing instrument in the key of E, pitched an octave plus a major sixth lower than written. It is one octave lower than the alto saxophone. Modern baritones with a low A key and high F key have a range from C2 to A4.

As with all saxophones, its music is written in treble clef. By coincidence, it is possible to use a trick known as clef substitution to read music written in bass clef at concert pitch (for example most tuba or bassoon parts), by reading as if it were a transposing part in treble clef and pretending there were three more sharps (or three fewer flats) in the key signature. A similar trick allows instruments in B like the tenor saxophone to read concert pitch tenor clef.

In classical music

The baritone saxophone is used as a standard member of concert bands and saxophone quartets.

It has also been occasionally called for in music for orchestra. Examples include Richard Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica , which calls for a baritone saxophone in F; Béla Bartók's The Wooden Prince ballet music; Charles Ives' Symphony No. 4 , composed in 1910–1916; and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (Grofé's orchestration) [8] and An American in Paris . [9] In his opera The Devils of Loudun (Die Teufel von Loudun), Krzysztof Penderecki calls for two baritone saxes. Karlheinz Stockhausen includes a baritone saxophone in Gruppen and Stravinsky calls for one in his Ebony Concerto.

It has a comparatively small solo repertoire although an increasing number of concertos have appeared, one of these being "Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra" by American composer Philip Glass. This is a piece that can be played with or without an orchestra that features the baritone sax in the second movement. [10] The American composer Mark Watters' Rhapsody for Baritone Saxophone has been scored for piano, wind ensemble, and orchestra. This single-movement solo for the baritone sax includes a virtuosic cadenza.

In jazz music

A number of jazz performers have used the baritone saxophone as their primary instrument. It is part of standard big band instrumentation (the larger bass saxophone was also occasionally used up until the 1940s). As phrased by Alain Cupper from, "Used a few times in contemporary classical is especially in jazz that this wonderful instrument feels most comfortable." [11] One of the instrument's pioneers was Harry Carney, longtime baritone saxophone player in the Duke Ellington band.

Baritone saxophone soloists Gerry Mulligan, Cecil Payne, Sahib Shihab, Pepper Adams, Serge Chaloff, and Leo Parker achieved fame in the jazz world. Peter Brötzmann is a notable free jazz player.

A noted Scottish performer was Joe Temperley, who appeared with Humphrey Lyttelton as well as with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

More recent notable performers include Hamiet Bluiett (who has also led a group of baritone saxophone players), John Surman, Scott Robinson, James Carter, Stephen "Doc" Kupka of the band Tower of Power, Nick Brignola, Gary Smulyan, Brian Landrus, and Ronnie Cuber. In the avant-garde scene, Tim Berne has doubled on bari. Jazz/funk player Leo Pellegrino of Lucky Chops and Too Many Zooz has become popular with younger listeners for his aggressive playing style and energetic performances.

In other music

Baritone saxophonist in a military band of the Italian Army Italia military music saxophone.jpg
Baritone saxophonist in a military band of the Italian Army

The baritone sax is an important part of military bands and is common in musical theater. The baritone sax appeared in many early rock-and-roll hits of the 1950s, played a prominent role in many Motown hits of the 1960s, notably by King Curtis, and appeared in the 1970s and beyond in acts such as Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, played by Clarence Clemons. It is often in the horn sections of funk, blues, Latin, soul bands.

Prominent baritone saxophonists in contemporary American popular music include Stephen Kupka of Tower of Power, Dana Colley of Morphine, Leroi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants and Martin Perna of Antibalas, the Dap-Kings and TV on the Radio

Nigerian Afrobeat singer, musician, and bandleader Fela Kuti typically featured two baritone saxophone players in his band.[ citation needed ]

A few modern non-jazz artists have recently begun to incorporate saxophones into their instrumentation. The LA Indie rock band Fitz and the Tantrums featured both an alto and a baritone saxophone in their music—most recently their 2016 song "Handclap" from an album of the same name. Both were played by band member James King. [12] [13] The "Brass house" (experimental jazz/funk) group Too Many Zooz is another group that has popularized the baritone saxophone. Originally a New York City subway band, the trio has released three albums and been featured on a TEDxYouth@Budapest segment. [14] [15]

Lisa Simpson from the cartoon comedy series The Simpsons plays the baritone sax. [16]

Haruka Ogasawara from the anime Sound! Euphonium plays the baritone sax. [17]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bassoon</span> Double-reed woodwind instrument

The bassoon is a musical instrument in the woodwind family, which plays in the tenor and bass ranges. It is composed of six pieces, and is usually made of wood. It is known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, versatility, and virtuosity. It is a non-transposing instrument and typically its music is written in the bass and tenor clefs, and sometimes in the treble. There are two forms of modern bassoon: the Buffet and Heckel systems. It is typically played while sitting using a seat strap, but can be played while standing if the player has a harness to hold the instrument. Sound is produced by rolling both lips over the reed and blowing direct air pressure to cause the reed to vibrate. Its fingering system can be quite complex when compared to those of other instruments. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature, and is occasionally heard in pop, rock, and jazz settings as well. One who plays a bassoon is called a bassoonist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Euphonium</span> Brass instrument

The euphonium is a medium-sized, 3 or 4-valve, often compensating, conical-bore, tenor-voiced brass instrument that derives its name from the Ancient Greek word εὔφωνος euphōnos, meaning "well-sounding" or "sweet-voiced". The euphonium is a valved instrument. Nearly all current models have piston valves, though some models with rotary valves do exist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French horn</span> Type of brass instrument

The French horn is a brass instrument made of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. The double horn in F/B is the horn most often used by players in professional orchestras and bands, although the descant and triple horn have become increasingly popular. A musician who plays a horn is known as a horn player or hornist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone</span> Single-reed woodwind instrument

The saxophone is a type of single-reed woodwind instrument with a conical body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument's body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tuba</span> Brass instrument

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The baritone horn, sometimes called baritone, is a low-pitched brass instrument in the saxhorn family. It is a piston-valve brass instrument with a bore that is mostly conical, like the higher pitched flugelhorn and alto (tenor) horn, but it has a narrower bore compared to the similarly pitched euphonium. It uses a wide-rimmed cup mouthpiece like that of its peers, the trombone and euphonium. Like the trombone and the euphonium, the baritone horn can be considered either a transposing or non-transposing instrument.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor horn</span> Brass instrument in the saxhorn family

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mellophone</span> Brass instrument

The mellophone is a brass instrument typically pitched in the key of F, though models in E, D, C, and G have also historically existed. It has a conical bore, like that of the euphonium and flugelhorn. The mellophone is used as the middle-voiced brass instrument in marching bands and drum and bugle corps in place of French horns, and can also be used to play French horn parts in concert bands and orchestras.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass clarinet</span> Member of the clarinet family

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles and concert bands, and occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alto saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in the key of E, smaller than the B tenor but larger than the B soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, carnatic music, and jazz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

The soprano saxophone is a higher-register variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument invented in the 1840s. The soprano is the third-smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists of the sopranissimo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass saxophone. Soprano saxophones are the smallest and thus highest-pitched saxophone in common use.

The alto clarinet is a woodwind instrument of the clarinet family. It is a transposing instrument pitched in the key of E, though instruments in F have been made. In size it lies between the soprano clarinet and the bass clarinet. It bears a greater resemblance to the bass clarinet in that it typically has a straight body, but a curved neck and bell made of metal. All-metal alto clarinets also exist. In appearance it strongly resembles the basset horn, but usually differs in three respects: it is pitched a whole step lower, it lacks an extended lower range, and it has a wider bore than many basset horns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contrabass saxophone</span> Low pitched instrument in the saxophone family

The contrabass saxophone is the second-lowest-pitched extant member of the saxophone family proper. It is pitched in E♭ one octave below the baritone saxophone, which requires twice the length of tubing and bore width. This renders a very large and heavy instrument, standing approximately 2 metres tall and weighing around 20 kilograms (44 lb). Despite this, it was used in marching bands in the early 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass saxophone</span> Wind instrument

The bass saxophone is one of the lowest-pitched members of the saxophone family—larger and lower than the more common baritone saxophone. It was likely the first type of saxophone built by Adolphe Sax, as first observed by Berlioz in 1842. It is a transposing instrument pitched in B, an octave below the tenor saxophone and a perfect fourth below the baritone saxophone. A bass saxophone in C, intended for orchestral use, was included in Adolphe Sax's patent, but few known examples were built. The bass saxophone is not a commonly used instrument, but it is heard on some 1920s jazz recordings, in free jazz, in saxophone choirs and sextets, and occasionally in concert bands and rock music.

The Buescher Band Instrument Company was a manufacturer of musical instruments in Elkhart, Indiana, from 1894 to 1963. The company was acquired by the H&A Selmer Company in 1963. Selmer retired the Buescher brand in 1983.


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