Saxophone Keys Explained


The Saxophones and their keys:

  • 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.

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.

 

 

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