How that Smooth Sax Sound is Made
By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
Image credit is Amati Kraslice, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.
Music enthusiasts will be delighted to hear that November 6 is National Saxophone Day. Celebrated on the birthday of saxophone inventor, Antoine-Joseph ‘Adolphe’ Sax, this Belgian inventor had many musical inventions and patents, but the saxophone is the one most recognized today.
The first saxophone by build by Sax in 1840, but he did not patent it until 1846. The saxophone had some novelty early on, but would eventually be dismissed by most symphonies, and instead was used in small ensembles and military bands. By the 1880s, the saxophone was being manufactured in America by C.G Conn Ltd. They developed a way to improve the production of the instrument, making it more cost effective and better available on the market. The saxophone had come mild success after manufacturing started, but it was its use in jazz during the 1920s and 30s that really saw its popularity rise.
The most widely used saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Even though their range is extensive, the different varieties have specific uses in an ensemble, but the ability to play them is transferable between the different varieties. Playing a saxophone takes more practice and nuance than most would believe. It is more than just putting it in your mouth and blowing air. Saxophones require a single reed, attached to the mouthpiece, to vibrate and generate sound. Not enough air and the reed will fail to vibrate and all you will hear is a hissing noise. Too much air will shut the reed against the mouthpiece and no sound will emit. When the air is controlled, from practice, the vibrating reed will send sound waves though the rest of the instrument generating the tone. The opposite end of the saxophone is bell-shaped and helps to project the sound outwards, much like most other wind instruments. To change the sound there are a series of buttons on the sides. Pressing these in different orders will change how the sound vibrates through the instrument, thus changing the tone.
Budding musicians are often not aware of how little difference in how they breathe or the shape their mouth can affect the sound of their instrument. Or the science behind how sound moves through it, but it shows how science concepts are all around us.
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