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Tenor is in the Woodwind Family
Tenor Saxophone has many other Family Members in the Sax Family

Basic Information about the Tenor Saxophone

The Tenor Saxophone was invented between 1841 and 1846 by Adolphe Sax. You can read more about Adolphe Sax here.

The Woodwind Family

The Tenor Saxophone is part of the Woodwind Family. Other instruments in the Woodwind Family include the Flutes, Clarinets, Oboes and Bassoons. Much like these older instrument families, there are many different sizes of Saxophones and the Tenor Saxophone is one of the medium sized Saxes.

The Sax Family

Like every family you have Moms and Dads, Grandparents, Great Grandparents and brothers and sisters. When you are related to someone you often have the same last name and that's the same with the Sax Family.

The smallest Sax is the Soprillo Sax; next comes the Sopranino, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass and Contrabass Saxophones. Each of these Saxes have a different first name but since they are in the same family, they have the same last name. All of the modern versions of these Saxophones are transposing instruments. That means you can't play piano music with a piano player and have the same note sound come out of the Saxophone as you hear the Piano playing.

Many instruments are in the Key of C like Piano, Strings, Bass and C Flutes. Most the other instruments you might know about are in different keys and must be transposed to play with the other instruments in a band or orchestra.

The common Keys for Saxophones is either Bb or Eb. In band, the music is transposed for you so you play the note you see on the music and it will sound right with everyone else. If you don't have music transposed for the Tenor Sax and want to play your Tenor with others, you would have to learn how to look at the notes and play different notes than the written notes. This is called Transposing. People have tried to make Saxophones in different Keys, mostly the Key of C and the Key of F, but these Saxophones did not sound as good and never really took off.

Bb Tenor Saxophone

The Tenor Saxophone is one of the most common Saxophones seen in music today. The other really popular Saxophone is the Alto Sax, then the Bari Sax and Soprano Sax rounds out the top 4 in the Sax Family.

What does the "Key of Bb" mean?

Tenor Sax is in the Key of Bb. Because it is pretty big and the music is written in treble clef, the Tenor also sounds an octave lower than the notes look like on the music. Put that all together and the Bb Tenor Sax sounds a 9th lower than it looks on paper. That means a middle C on piano and a middle C on Tenor Saxophone are off by 9 notes.

To Transpose from Bb to C, you have to play a whole step (or 2 half steps) higher to adjust to the piano. If the Sax sounds too low, you then need to play up an octave to sound right. Aren't you glad they do that for you in your Tenor Sax parts in band?

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Coming soon are new sites dedicated to Soprano Sax and Baritone Sax designed to give the Saxophone Student everything they want to know about each Sax.


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