Neha Patil (Editor)

Alto saxophone

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Instrument family

28th June 1846

28 June 1846

Place of origin

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Hornbostel–Sachs classification
422.212-71(Single-reeded aerophone with keys)


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The alto saxophone, also referred to as alto sax, 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 classical music (such as concert bands, chamber music, and solo repertoire), military bands, marching bands, and jazz (such as big bands, jazz combos, swing music). The alto saxophone was also commonplace in popular music from the 1980s and early 1990s with the saxophone solo at the bridge of the song. The saxophone fingerings are all universal, so a saxophone player can play any type of saxophone. Alto saxophone is known for its difficulty.


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The range of the alto saxophone is from concert A3 (the D below F—see Scientific pitch notation) to concert A5 (or A5 on altos with a high F key). As with most types of saxophones, the standard written range is B3 to F6 (or F6). Above that, the altissimo register begins at F6 (or G6) and extends upwards. The saxophone's altissimo register is more difficult to control than that of other woodwinds and is usually only expected from advanced players. By covering or partially covering the bell of the saxophone when playing B3, it is possible for the alto saxophone to reach A3 as well.

Alto saxophonists

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Some notable jazz alto saxophonists include: Don Redman, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Art Pepper, Paul Desmond, Cannonball Adderley, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Marshall Allen, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Carlos Ward, David Sanborn, Paquito D'Rivera, John Zorn, Tim Berne, Steve Wilson, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Kenny Garrett, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Tia Fuller.

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Some notable classical alto saxophonists include Timothy McAllister, Marcel Mule, Sigurd Raschèr, Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Lawrence Gwozdz, Frederick L. Hemke, Donald Sinta, Harvey Pittel, Larry Teal, Jean-Marie Londeix, Kenneth Tse, Arno Bornkamp, Harry White, Otis Murphy, Claude Delangle and Eugene Rousseau.

Also of note is Kadri Gopalnath, a pioneer of Carnatic music, plays a modified alto saxophone.


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Some companies that currently produce saxophones are Buffet Crampon, KHS/Jupiter, Conn-Selmer, Selmer Paris, Yamaha, Leblanc/Vito, Keilwerth, Cannonball and Yanagisawa. New alto saxophones range in price between €250 ($281.05) for lower quality student models to over €6000 ($6745.20) for professional models.

In classical music

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The alto saxophone has a large classical solo repertoire that includes solos with orchestra, piano and wind symphony. Two of the most well-known solo compositions are Jacques Ibert's "Concertino da Camera" and Alexander Glazunov's "Concerto in E Flat major".

Also, the alto saxophone is part of the standard instrumentation of concert bands and saxophone quartets.

The alto saxophone is also occasionally used in orchestral compositions. Several orchestral examples are listed below.

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  • Georges Bizet features it in the "Minuet" from the second suite of music from L'Arlésienne.
  • It was called for by Richard Strauss in his Sinfonia Domestica, which includes parts for four saxophones including an alto saxophone in F.
  • Dmitri Shostakovich uses the alto in his Suite for Variety Orchestra and it has a prominent solo in the "Waltz No. 2" section. He also includes it in his Suite No. 1 and Suite No. 2.
  • Maurice Ravel uses the saxophone prominently in his orchestration of Modest Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, most notably as the soloist in "Il vecchio castello".
  • Alban Berg uses the saxophone in his late orchestral works, most notably "Der Wein", Lulu, and the Violin Concerto.
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff uses the saxophone in his Symphonic Dances as a soloist in the first movement.
  • George Gershwin includes it in a few pieces; such as Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris.
  • Pierre Boulez wrote for 2 alto saxes in his composition Pli selon pli ("Fold by Fold").
  • Benjamin Britten calls for an alto in his Sinfonia da Requiem and The Prince of the Pagodas.
  • Leonard Bernstein includes an alto sax in his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
  • Vincent d'Indy enlists two altos in his opera Fervaal.
  • Darius Milhaud writes for an alto in La Creation du Monde.
  • Allan Pettersson makes use of an alto in his 16th Symphony.
  • Krzysztof Penderecki scores for two altos in his opera The Devils of Loudon ("Die Teufel von Loudon").
  • Aram Khatchaturian includes an alto in his ballet Gayane.
  • Poul Ruders includes a significant solo for the alto saxophone in his orchestral suite Concerto in Pieces.
  • Eric Coates wrote for an alto in his 1936 Saxo-Rhapsody.
  • Claude Debussy features an alto in his Rhapsody for Saxophone and Orchestra.

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    Alto saxophone Wikipedia