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Woodwind Instruments - An Overview | Unusual Musical Instruments
The Saxophone was invented by one Adolphe Sax sometime in the 1840s. To the untrained heathen eye, it may appear to be little more than a bendy brass clarinet, but this is the sort of observation that will get you clouted by both clarinet and saxophone players alike.
At first, the musicians of the time, particularly the classical musicians, were slow to take interest. Then, one day, a classical musician realised that in the saxophone they had found an instrument they could be exceptionally snooty about, and encouraged people to take up playing the saxophone so that they could look down upon them. This is an attitude which still exists in classical musicians today, as can be seen by this Researcher's comment:
My partner is a classical saxophonist, and while she was at university one of the music lecturers (a classical musician, naturally) said that she played the saxophone so well she made it sound like a musical instrument. Sadly, to my mind, he didn't say this well enough to make it sound like a compliment.
The saxophone was, however, a big hit with jazz bands and big bands, although brass players in such bands tend to get jealous of the number of keys it has.
Saxophones come in seven sizes - Sopranino (a brass descant recorder with a reed), Soprano (around the same size as an oboe but more effective as a blunt instrument), Alto (the most common saxophone), Tenor (often used by saxophonists in pop videos since its a good size to wave from side to side), Baritone (by far the sexiest of the lot), Bass (very, very big), and Contra-bass (stupidly huge). Those which tend to look the coolest are either those which are lacquered in black, or those which are battered and are without lacquer at all.
Saxophone music is of course subject to the same notation as other music (eg, pianissimo, forte, etc), although, as some conductors have a difficult time finding out, the word pianissimo when applied to a saxophone is definitely a relative term. You are strongly advised not to attempt to play one in an avalanche danger zone without proper adult supervision.