Saxophone Keys Explained
- Sopranino is in Eb
- Soprano is in Bb
- Alto is in Eb
- Tenor is in Bb
- Baritone is in Eb
- Bass is in Bb
- Contrabass is in Eb
There are others of course but I didn’t include them on the list because they are rare and not made or used anymore. These are the C soprano, C melody, the C bass, and the Sub-contrabass.
Knowing which key your saxophone is in relative to other instruments is a must.
When we sax players play along with concert pitch instruments such as piano, guitar, violin etc, we must play a different note on our horns for it to come out sounding like the same note the concert pitch instruments play. Read on to understand the saxophone keys…
Why do they call it a Bb saxophone?
Because when a Bb saxophone plays it’s written C it sounds Bb on the piano (concert pitch).
Why do they call it an Eb saxophone?
Because when an Eb sax plays it’s written C it sounds Eb on the piano.
All saxophones are transposing instruments. This means that they are not in concert pitch like a piano or guitar. So when a Bb tenor sax plays it’s written C it sounds Bb on a piano. Think about that for a minute. The note C is exactly one whole step up from the note Bb so whatever concert key your piano or guitar friends are playing in you need to be one whole tone higher – they’re in A so you need to play in B, they’re in E you need to play in F#.
If an Eb saxophone such as the alto plays it’s written C it sounds Eb on the piano. If you study the relationship between these two notes you can see they are a minor third apart – C, C#, D, Eb. So whatever the concert pitch instruments such as the piano and guitars are playing in, the Eb alto needs to be a minor third (3 semi-tones) below – Concert E will therefor be C# for the alto, concert G will be E etc.