Contrabass saxophone

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Contrabass saxophone
Orsi Contrabass Saxophone (1999).jpg
Orsi contrabass saxophone (1999)
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.212-71
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s) Adolphe Sax
Developed28 June 1846 [1]
Playing range
Sax range.svg

In E: sounds two octaves and a major sixth lower than written
Related instruments

Military band family:

Orchestral family:

Other saxophones:

More articles or information

The contrabass saxophone is the second-lowest-pitched extant member of the saxophone family proper. It is extremely large (twice the length of tubing of the baritone saxophone, with a bore twice as wide, standing 1.9 meters tall, or 6 feet 4 inches) and heavy (approximately 20 kilograms, or 45 pounds), and is pitched in the key of E, one octave below the baritone saxophone.



The contrabass saxophone was part of the original saxophone family as conceived by Adolphe Sax, and is included in his saxophone patent of 1846, as well as in Kastner's concurrently published Methode for saxophone. By 1849, Sax was displaying contrabass through sopranino saxophones at exhibitions. Patrick Gilmore's famous American band roster included a contrabass saxophone in 1892, and at least a dozen of these instruments were built by the Evette-Schaeffer company for the US military bands in the early 20th century. Saxophone ensembles were also popular at this time, and the contrabass saxophone was an eye-catching novelty for the groups that were able to obtain one. By the onset of the Great Depression, the saxophone craze had ended, and the contrabass, already rare, almost disappeared from public view.

Modern instruments

In recent years[ when? ], however, the contrabass saxophone has experienced a resurgence in interest. Although still quite rare, perhaps partly due to its great expense, three manufacturers now produce contrabass saxophones: Benedikt Eppelsheim of Munich, Germany [2] Romeo Orsi Wind Instruments of Milan, and J’Elle Stainer of São Paulo, Brazil. [3]


Due to its large body and wide bore, the sound of the contrabass saxophone has great acoustical presence and a very rich tone. It can be smooth and mellow, or harsh and buzzy depending on the player, and on the mouthpiece and reed combination used. Its middle and upper registers are warm, full, and expressive. Because its deepest tones vibrate so slowly (as with the contrabassoon or pedal notes on a pipe organ) it can be difficult for listeners to perceive individual pitches at the bottom of its range; instead of hearing a clearly delineated melody, listeners may instead hear a series of rattling tones with little pitch definition. However, when these tones are reinforced by another instrument playing at the octave or fifteenth, they sound clearly defined and have tremendous resonance and presence. In some contemporary jazz/classical ensembles the contrabass saxophone doubles the baritone saxophone either at the same pitch or an octave below, depending on the register of the music.

In classical music

While there are few orchestral works that call specifically for the contrabass saxophone, the growing number of contrabass saxophonists has led to the creation of an increasing body of solo and chamber music literature. It is particularly effective as a foundation for large ensembles of saxophones. As an example, the eminent saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr (1907-2001) played the instrument in his Raschèr Saxophone Ensemble, and it is featured on most of the albums by the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra. The Scottish composer Alistair Hinton has included parts for soprano, alto, baritone and contrabass saxophones in his Concerto for 22 Instruments completed in 2005.

In rock and jazz music

Since 2004, the rock group Violent Femmes have incorporated the contrabass saxophone into the band's live performances as well as their newest albums. Blaise Garza's contrabass saxophone often plays in unison with the bass guitar, [4] and is featured heavily on their ninth studio album, We Can Do Anything .

Anthony Braxton has occasionally used contrabass saxophone in jazz and improvised music, as on The Aggregate (1988), Four Compositions (GTM) 2000 (2003), or Dortmund (Quartet) 1976 (1991).


The contrabass saxophone has most frequently been used as a solo instrument by woodwind players in the genres of jazz and improvised music who are searching for an extreme or otherworldly tone. The difficulty of holding and controlling the instrument (let alone playing it) makes performing on the instrument a somewhat theatrical experience in and of itself. On older instruments, playing is difficult too; it takes an enormous amount of air to sound notes in the low register. Thanks to refinements in their acoustical designs and keywork, modern contrabass saxophones are no more difficult to play than most other saxophones.

An increasing number of performers and recording artists are making use of the instrument, including Anthony Braxton, Paul Cohen, David Brutti, Jay C. Easton, Randy Emerick, Blaise Garza, Marcel W. Helland, Robert J. Verdi, Joseph Donald Baker, Thomas K. J. Mejer, Douglas Pipher, Scott Robinson, Klaas Hekman, Daniel Gordon, Daniel Kientzy, and Todd A. White. It is also used by saxophone ensembles including the Raschèr Saxophone Orchestra Lörrach, [5] Saxophone Sinfonia, National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain, Northstar Saxophone Quartet, Koelner Saxophone Mafia, Toronto-based Allsax4tet and the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra. [6]

Related Research Articles

Saxophone type of musical instrument of the woodwind family

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.

Tuba Type of musical instrument of the brass family

The tuba is the lowest-pitched musical instrument in the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by lip vibration, or a buzz, into a mouthpiece. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, making it one of the newer instruments in the modern orchestra and concert band. The tuba largely replaced the ophicleide. Tuba is Latin for "trumpet".


The sarrusophones are a family of transposing woodwind musical instruments patented and placed into production by Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856. Originally designed as double-reed instruments, sarrusophones were later developed that used single-reed mouthpieces, at least for some of the larger sizes. It was named after the French bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813–1876), who is credited with the concept of the instrument, though it is not clear whether Sarrus benefited financially from this association. The instrument was intended to serve as a replacement in wind bands for the oboe and bassoon, which, at that time, lacked the carrying power required for outdoor band music.


The contrabassoon, also known as the double bassoon, is a larger version of the bassoon, sounding an octave lower. Its technique is similar to its smaller cousin, with a few notable differences.

Contrabass refers to several musical instruments of very low pitch—generally one octave below bass register instruments. While the term most commonly refers to the double bass, many other instruments in the contrabass register exist.

Contrabass clarinet

The contrabass clarinet and contra-alto clarinet are the two largest members of the clarinet family that are in common usage. Modern contrabass clarinets are pitched in B, sounding two octaves lower than the common B soprano clarinet and one octave lower than the B bass clarinet. Some contrabass clarinet models have a range extending down to low (written) E, while others can play down to low D or further to low C. This range, C(3) – E(6), sounds B(0) – D(4). Some early instruments were pitched in C; Arnold Schoenberg's Fünf Orchesterstücke specifies a contrabass clarinet in A, but there is no evidence of such an instrument ever having existed.

Alto saxophone Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone, also referred to as the alto sax or simply the alto, is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, and patented in 1846. It is pitched in E, and is smaller than the tenor, but larger than the soprano. The alto sax is the most common saxophone and is commonly used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, and jazz. The fingerings of the different saxophones are all the same so a saxophone player can play any type of saxophone.

Tenor saxophone 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".

Baritone saxophone

The baritone saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of instruments, larger than the tenor saxophone, but smaller 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.

Soprano saxophone

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 soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass saxophone and tubax. Soprano saxophones are the smallest and thus highest-pitched saxophone in common use.


The tubax is a modified saxophone developed in 1999 by the German instrument maker Benedikt Eppelsheim. It exists in both E contrabass and B or C subcontrabass sizes. Its name is a portmanteau of the words "tuba" and "sax". The first size of tubax to be developed was the E contrabass. It has the same register as a regular contrabass saxophone but is much more compact due to its tubing being folded more times. While the timbre of the E tubax is more focused and compact than that of the full-sized contrabass saxophone, it still blends well with other sizes of saxophones and can be played with surprising agility compared to its size. The subcontrabass tubax uses a baritone saxophone or bass saxophone mouthpiece. While several B subcontrabasses are already in use, only one C model has been manufactured. It was sold to Thomas Mejer of Switzerland in July 2002; he has recorded on it with Peter A. Schmid as the "Two Tubax Duo."

Sopranissimo saxophone Type of saxophone

The sopranissimo saxophone is the smallest member of the saxophone family. It is pitched in B, one octave above the soprano saxophone. Because of the difficulties in building such a small instrument—the soprillo is 30 cm (12 in) long, 33 cm (13 in) with the mouthpiece—it is only since the mid-2010s that a true sopranissimo saxophone has been able to be produced. The keywork only extends to a written E6, rather than F, F, or sometimes G, like most saxophones, and the upper octave key has to be placed on the mouthpiece.

Subcontrabass saxophone

The subcontrabass saxophone is a type of saxophone that Adolphe Sax patented and planned to build but never constructed. Sax called this imagined instrument saxophone bourdon. It is a transposing instrument pitched in B, one octave below the bass saxophone, two octaves below the tenor saxophone, and three octaves and a major second below its written pitch.

Bass saxophone Wind instrument in B♭

The bass saxophone is one of the largest members of the saxophone family—larger than the more commonly encountered baritone saxophone. The modern bass saxophone is a transposing instrument pitched in B, an octave below the tenor saxophone. 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 occasionally in concert bands.


The ophicleide is a keyed brass instrument similar to the tuba. It is a conical-bore keyed instrument belonging to the bugle family and has a shape similar to the sudrophone's.

Sopranino saxophone

The sopranino saxophone is one of the smallest members of the saxophone family. It is tuned in the key of E, and sounds an octave higher than the alto saxophone. The sopranino saxophone has a sweet sound and although it is one of the least common of the saxophones in regular use today, it is still being produced by several of the major musical manufacturing companies. Due to their small size, sopraninos are not usually curved like other saxophones. Orsi, however, does make curved sopranino saxophones.

Sigurd Raschèr American saxophonist

Sigurd Manfred Raschèr was an American saxophonist born in Germany. He became an important figure in the development of the 20th century repertoire for the classical saxophone.

Mezzo-soprano saxophone

The mezzo-soprano saxophone, sometimes called the F alto saxophone, is an instrument in the saxophone family. It is in the key of F, pitched a whole tone above the alto saxophone. Its size and the sound are similar to the E alto, although the upper register sounds more like a B soprano. Very few mezzo-sopranos exist—they were only produced in 1928 and 1929 by the C.G. Conn company. They were not popular and did not sell widely, as their production coincided with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Harsh economic conditions forced Conn to reduce the range of saxophones they produced to the most popular models.

Saxophone quartet

A saxophone quartet is a musical ensemble composed of four saxophones, typically soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Different saxophone family members are employed to provide a larger range and a variety of tone colours. Other arrangements of instruments also exist, but are rarer. A piece of music composed for such an ensemble can also itself be referred to as a saxophone quartet.

The western concert flute family has a wide range of instruments.


  1. "June 28, 1846: Parisian Inventor Patents Saxophone". Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  2. Contrabass saxophone page Archived 13 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine on the web site of Benedikt Eppelsheim Wind Instrument Company
  3. "Elle Stainer". 14 April 2008. Archived from the original on 14 April 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
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