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Alto saxophone

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Alto saxophone
Woodwind instrument
Classification Single-reed
Hornbostel–Sachs classification422.212-71
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s)Adolphe Sax
Playing range
The alto saxophone in E sounds a major sixth lower than written. Most professional models have a high F♯ key, although higher notes are possible using altissimo fingerings
Related instruments
Orchestral saxophones:
Specialty saxophones:
See list of saxophonists

The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in the key of E, smaller than the B tenor but larger than the B soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, carnatic music, and jazz (such as big bands, jazz combos, swing music).

The alto saxophone had a prominent role in the development of jazz. Influential jazz musicians who made significant contributions include Don Redman, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Art Pepper, Paul Desmond, and Cannonball Adderley.

Although the role of the alto saxophone in orchestral music has been limited, influential performers include Marcel Mule, Sigurd Raschèr, Jean-Marie Londeix, Eugene Rousseau, and Frederick L. Hemke.



As with most saxophones, the alto's written range is B3 to F6 (or F6),[1] with the higher altissimo register starting at F6 (or G6). The saxophone's altissimo register is more difficult to control than that of other woodwinds and is usually only expected from advanced players.

The alto saxophone is a transposing instrument, with pitches sounding a major sixth lower than written. In terms of concert pitches, the alto saxophone's range is from concert D3 (the D below middle C—see Scientific pitch notation) to concert A5 (or A5 on altos with a high F key).

A few rare alto saxophones, like some Selmer Mark VI models, have been keyed to reach a low A, a semitone lower, similar to baritone saxophones.[2][3]

Alto saxophonists

Free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman playing the alto sax

Notable jazz alto saxophonists include Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Stitt, Paul Desmond, Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, Bobby Watson, Eric Dolphy, Marshall Allen, Art Pepper, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Carlos Ward, David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Tom Scott, Paquito D'Rivera, John Zorn, Tim Berne, Steve Wilson, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Vincent Herring, Mark Gross, Kenny Garrett and Jeff Coffin.

Notable classical alto saxophonists include Tim McAllister, Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Lawrence Gwozdz, Donald Sinta, Harvey Pittel, Larry Teal, Kenneth Tse, Arno Bornkamp, Harry White, Otis Murphy, Claude Delangle.

Kadri Gopalnath was the pioneer of Carnatic music for the instrument. Rudresh Mahanthappa combines elements of jazz and Carnatic music for the alto saxophone.[4]



Companies that currently produce saxophones include Buffet Crampon, KHS/Jupiter, Conn-Selmer, Selmer Paris, Yamaha, Leblanc/Vito, Keilwerth, Cannonball, and Yanagisawa.

Yamaha YAS-62 alto saxophone

Classical music repertoire


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

The alto saxophone is found in the standard instrumentation of concert bands and saxophone quartets. Alexander Glazunov composed his Saxophone Quartet in B-flat major in 1932.

The alto saxophone is sometimes used in orchestral music. Some of the compositions where it appears are listed below.


  1. ^ "Range of the Alto Saxophone". Library.thinkquest.org. Archived from the original on 17 March 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  2. ^ "The Selmer Mark VI". SaxPics. USA Vintage Horn Corp. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Couesnon Low A alto, the OTHER low A alto". Stohrer Music. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  4. ^ "Rudresh Mahanthappa: Getting To Know Who I Am". Stohrer Music. Retrieved 6 January 2024.