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.