The saxophone is a member of the woodwind family even though it is made almost entirely of metal. The sound is produced by a vibrating single reed which is the same sound producing method as a clarinet. The clarinet and saxophone are similar in many ways. Many beginning students may not have a willingness to pay the higher price of a saxophone. Others may not have hands large enough to fit around the saxophone keys. Those students may start with a clarinet and switch to the saxophone at a later date.
All instruments are members of a small family of instruments that come in various shapes and sizes. The saxophone family has basically four members. The Bb (B flat) soprano, Eb alto, Bb tenor and Eb baritone saxophones are all widely used. The most popular and best beginning instrument is the Eb alto saxophone. A student with very large hands can succeed with a Bb tenor saxophone but alto is usually preferred. The soprano and baritone saxophones are played by advanced players who probably started out with an alto saxophone. A very old model of a saxophone is a C melody saxophone. It looks almost like a tenor saxophone but it is not an acceptable instrument for a beginner. Its more of a novelty instrument.
As with all instruments, the saxophone does require maintenance and cleaning. It stores in its case in three pieces plus a reed and a ligature. The ligature is the clamp that hold the reed in place around the mouthpiece. The reed is the most delicate portion of the instrument. Its very easy to chip a reed by bumping the mouthpiece on a music stand or clothing. Once a reed is damaged or worn out, it needs to be replaced. Students who are very careful with their reeds will still need several replacement reeds to get them through a year of band.
All reeds are given a rating of strength, 1 through 5. The lower the number, the softer the reed. In general, the stronger or stiffer reeds are used by advanced players. Teachers have different opinions on the best reed strength for beginners. The most commonly held belief is that beginners should start with a number 2 reed. A number 1 is too soft. Players advance to higher numbers as their performance level and lip muscles develop.
The saxophone is played with the left hand closest to the mouth. The right hand covers the lower keys. Since the saxophone is the only woodwind instrument made of brass, it is capable of very loud sounds by a beginner. With practice, a player can produce a very soft and sweet sound.
The saxophone is a very widely used instrument. They play a critical role in bands, jazz groups and small instrumental groups. Its a relatively new instrument compared to others. It is especially common to see a number of saxophones of various sizes in jazz groups. Professional jazz saxophonists tend to play more than one saxophone. They may own and perform on the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones as well as the flute and clarinet.
There are lots of choices for purchasing an alto saxophone. They are relatively easy to find as a new or used instrument. Giardinelli sells a very popular beginning alto saxophone, the Vito model 7131R. Vito is one of the very good brands of beginning saxophones. Purchasing a used saxophone can be a good option if it is purchased with caution. Older instruments or saxophones that have not been well maintained can be out of adjustment or in need of repair. The pads under some of the keys are very delicate. They may need replacing from a qualified band instrument repair shop which can get expensive. Buying a used instrument is only recommended if you know an advanced saxophonist or band director who can test a used instrument before you buy.