Alto Saxophone – An Overview

While listening to the enchanting tune of Charlie Parker or John Coltren, you must have wondered how they play that curvy brass instrument, an alto saxophone. You probably have become an enthusiast of sax and jazz music and want to start immediately with a sax. But do you already know what kind of saxophone will suite you best? And while buying that type of yours, what are those things that you need to look for? We are here to help you.

Alto saxophone is the most common form among that type of instrument. The instrument is a must have for all saxophonists. Its use is especially notable in classical music like concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoires, and jazz. It is smaller in size than tenor saxophone, but larger than soprano.

Alto saxophone sets the standard of any classic band. It’s not as old as the other saxophones, yet its extensive use in the modern and classical music alike has made it a favorite for any musician.

The History of Alto Saxophone

The market is now crowded with Yamaha, Selmer, and so many other manufacturers. But do you know from where the journey of Alto saxophone started? The inventor of alto and other saxophones is Adolphe Sax. Being a son of an instrument maker, he used to deal with musical instruments since his childhood. The mere thought of some missing piece in the brass, woodwind, and string sections drove him to invent the saxophone. It was patented in 1846.

The early history of the invention of alto saxophone is insignificant. But it came into prominence during the revolution in the field of Jazz music, in the 1920s. The musical band started using those sax extensively. Now, it is used in stage production as well as modern music.

The Parts of an Alto Saxophone

In general, saxophones and their parts are mostly the same. It is their sound that makes all the difference. In the case of an alto saxophone, the parts are:

  • The mouthpiece

  • The neck

  • The octave vent and the keys

  • The tube-like body

  • The thumb-rest

  • The rods

  • The pads on the hole

The Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is the part of the neck of a saxophone. It is the place where the saxophonist blow the air to produce the sound. To create a fine melody, the saxophonist needs to learn the right movement of the lips and the muscles of the mouth.

The Neck

The neck is the removable part of the saxophone. It consists of a metal tube that is attached to the body of the saxophone. It carries the air in the main tube and helps to create the melody.

The Octave Vent and Key

The octave vent is the lone whole that is situated on the neck of the saxophone. On the other hand, octave key is the flat metal key next to it.

The Body

The body of the saxophone is a tube made of brass. It has a conical shape and it holds the plates and the other parts of the saxophones. The body of an alto saxophone is divided into three parts:

  • The tube

  • The bow

  • The bell

The tube is the straight section of the body and the bow is the ‘U’ shaped curve at the bottom of the saxophone. The bell is the flaring part of the saxophone from which the sound comes out.

The Thumb-rest

The thumb rest is the piece made of metal or plastic, on which the musician rests his/her right thumb while playing the sax. It helps to support the weight of the saxophone.

The Keys, Rods and Pads

The keys of a sax are made of brass and nickel and are usually covered with mother of pearl. The keys in the middle and lower parts of the bow are generally known to be spatula. The keys on the right side towards the bottom are called side keys.

The rods work with the compression of the key. They produce the right note form the saxophone. Pads also form an important part of the instrument, since it helps to strike the right chord while playing.

Buying a Saxophone

While buying a saxophone, ensure that the product is in a perfect condition. It is important because only such a saxophone can produce quality music.


The dilemma in which the potential buyers find themselves, is, whether to buy a brand new sax or opt for a used one.

To help you to decide, I would suggest, go for the old one. Generally, saxophones are expensive. If you are a beginner or have a tight budget, the used sax can be a good option. But you need to be careful enough to know whether the saxophone and the accessories are in good conditions.

On the other hand, a brand new sax poses less risk. They are generally sold in a ready-to-play condition. If you are a seasoned sax player, then a brand new one is your thing.

But if you are buying a used saxophone, then keep some money handy. It may need a little love and care.

Alto saxophone, a quite popular instrument in today’s music scene, is actually, two centuries old. Master the art of playing it. Strike the right chord and play on.