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What Is a Baritone Saxophone?

Saxophones were invented around 1840 by a man from Belgium named Adolphe Sax.
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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2014
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Usually the lowest sounding saxophone in most musical groups, the baritone saxophone is a musical instrument from the woodwind family. It is usually made of brass, and has a mouthpiece fitted with a ligature holding a wooden reed that vibrates to make the saxophone sound. This instrument is curved in shape like the saxophones most people are familiar with, and it has a series of keys that the musician presses in various combinations to achieve the desired pitch. A shortened name for the baritone saxophone is bari sax.

A baritone sax is a big, deep-sounding instrument with a low register. Of the four common saxophones, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, the baritone sax is the largest and has the lowest sound. In the complete saxophone family, however, the baritone saxophone is not the largest or lowest. A lesser-known saxophone called the contrabass saxophone plays an octave lower than the baritone saxophone. This huge, curved bassy saxophone is about as big as a tall man, while a bari sax might measure only waist height on the same tall man.

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The deep sound and relatively manageable size of the baritone saxophone makes it a popular instrument with musical groups that perform sitting down. Though it is occasionally used in marching bands, the bari sax relatively heavy and often requires the use of a brace to help a standing musician hold the instrument. At the high end of its range, the baritone saxophone can emit warm tones similar to those of the low end of the tenor saxophone. The lower tones of the baritone sax are often described as being somewhat flatulent in nature.

This type of saxophone is used in many types of popular music, including rock, jazz, and orchestral music. Though the baritone saxophone is common in orchestral music, it is most commonly seen in jazz combos and jazz ensembles as part of the saxophone section. A typical saxophone section in a jazz ensemble usually has two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, and a baritone saxophone. The high-toned soprano saxophone also occasionally makes an appearance in these types of ensembles.

The saxophone was invented around 1840 by a man named Adolphe Sax, a woodwind player living in Belgium. Woodwind instruments are musical instruments that use wood to make sound. Saxophones are part of the woodwind family because of the wooden reed in the mouthpiece. Earlier woodwinds that were in use prior to the invention of the saxophone include the oboe, flute, and clarinet. Though modern flutes are most often fabricated from metal, making the woodwind distinction confusing, they are called woodwinds because the first flutes were made of wood.

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