The tenor saxophone lies in the center of the saxophone family’s range like a sweet spot. Countless masters of the saxophone have relied on the tenor’s tone as the conduit for their music.
Some say that the tenor is particularly effective because its pitches share the middle range of the human voice and some of the qualities of human speech. Like other saxophones of differing sizes, the tenor is played in the same manner. A saxophonist blows into the mouthpiece that is attached to the top of the saxophone. This mouthpiece is attached to the crook (or neck), which in turn is attached to the body of the sax. The saxophone’s body is a brass cone that is bent and flared out at the bottom, or bell. By blowing through the mouthpiece and pressing different combinations of keys, a tenor saxophonist enjoys a range of at least two and a half octaves, from Bb below the treble staff to high F natural (or sharp, depending on the horn) above the treble staff.
The Tenor Saxophone is often manufactured with brass bodies, but other materials, such as plastic, nickel, silver, and phosphor bronze, have been experimented with. Phosphor bronze is the latest addition to the list of new materials through the Bauhaus-Walstein brand. Also, the choice between lacquered and unlacquered saxophones plays a part in opening up the range of saxophone timbres for tenor saxes as well as the rest of the saxophone family.
Speaking of brands, there continue to be many to choose from. Yamaha, Selmer, Conn, Bundy, Jupiter, Keilwerth, Amati, Yanagisawa, and Giardinelli are just a few making Tenors right now. Student, intermediate, and professional saxophones are all fairly easy to come by. Playing a horn before purchasing it is a must to see which saxophone is right for you.
This is a Bb transposing instrument. This means that a part written for a tenor is a major 9th lower than its concert pitch counterpart. For example, a C written in the middle of the treble clef for a tenor saxophonist equates to the Bb at the top of the bass clef for the concert pitch. The basic concept of transposing instruments is that all instruments have a common frame of reference. If a group calls for a tune to be transposed to a concert key of A, the alto player, trumpet, and trombone can all play together by making their own correct individual transpositions, either mentally or by writing a new part in the correct transposed key.
The tenor saxophone has been made into a celebrity instrument by the colorful people who have played it well. Here is a brief list of some great players:
- John Coltrane
- Harvey Pittel
- Stan Getz
- Branford Marsalis
- Lester Young
- Coleman Hawkins
- Benny Golson
- Dave Liebman