As one of the newest instruments on the market, saxophones have the benefit of being designed relatively recently (1848!) which means they are simple to get started with and a great choice if you’re looking to learn a jazz-related instrument.

The fingering system was designed for easy use, the mouthpiece is less complex than it’s orchestral counterparts and playing in tune and with a good tone is feasible within a few practice sessions.

Basically, this single-reed member of the woodwind family is a good bet if you’re looking to learn a new instrument.

In this guide, we’re going to take you through the 4 main types of saxophone to choose from, let you know some basic considerations when planning to learn it and suggest some specific saxophone models and recordings to check out.

Looking for help on choosing a saxophone? Read on…

Which type of saxophone is best for you?

How Easy Is It To Get Started On the Saxophone?

In terms of learning, the saxophone is one of the easiest instruments. The scales run up and down the keys, making it perfect for beginners or people who are switching from the piano or other woodwind instruments with similar fingerings. The fingerings come almost as second nature, with the sound getting deeper as more holes in the instrument are covered in order from top to bottom.

There are four common types of saxophone to choose from (plus a bunch of crazy ones that we’re not going to go into today*!) – the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.

Alto and tenor saxophones are the most common for beginners, for reasons we’ll go into below, but all 4 have their unique style and attractions, regardless of whether you’re a complete beginner or have been playing music a while…

Soprano Saxophone

Often straight (resembling a clarinet in shape), the soprano saxophone has one of the highest ranges of all saxophones and is the third-smallest member of the sax family, following the soprillo and sopranino.

It uses the same fingerings as any other saxophone, but the instrument is more difficult to keep in tune, which is why it’s rare for beginners to start with this.

It’s in the same key (Bb) as the tenor saxophone, which is why you often see sax players playing those two, ahead of baritone and alto – which are both in Eb.

Beginners who decide to choose a soprano saxophone may want to try a few different mouthpieces on their saxophone to find one that feels right and helps produce the best tone. If the tuning is an issue, it’s also worth trying different reed strengths. As a reminder, the lower numbers (such as #2) will be easier to play.

Recommended beginner soprano sax models

Soprano saxophone listening guide

Listen to John Coltrane’s famous soprano saxophone playing from the early 60s…

My Favorite Things (With Bonus Tracks)
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/13/2008 (Publication Date) - Rhino/Wea Uk (Publisher)

Alto Saxophone

Patented in 1846, the alto saxophone is the most common saxophone on the market and is often found in school bands, marching bands, orchestras and jazz bands.

The most likely reason for this is that it’s a good mix of easy-to-blow and easy-to-hold and has a good mid-range sound.

Generally, the alto is a good place to start if you’re a total beginner, like the idea of playing a recognisable saxophone, or are inspired by some of the jazz greats who played that instrument. Also, assuming budget is a consideration, the alto saxophone’s size is smaller than it’s tenor counterpart, meaning it’s also cheaper.

Best Alto Saxophone for Beginners

Alto saxophone listening guide

Check out Cannonball Adderley, a popular alto saxophonist in the 1950s and 60s.

Somethin Else
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/10/2011 (Publication Date) - Ais (Publisher)

Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone looks very similar to the alto, but a little bigger. As such, it’s heavier to hold, has a larger mouthpiece and reed and takes more air to make a sound.

For adults, this shouldn’t pose any issue, but it’s a valid consideration if you’re looking for a beginner saxophone for a child or young student.

If you’re inspired by jazz, the tenor saxophone is arguably the most popular solo instrument in the style, with many of the jazz saxophone greats opting for this instrument.

As mentioned earlier, it is also in the same key (Bb) as the soprano, so alternating between those two – even on the same gig or practice session – is not too difficult.

The Best Tenor Sax for Beginners

Tenor saxophone listening guide

For amazing tenor saxophone recordings, listen to Sonny Rollins, an influential jazz musician in American history.

Complete Blue Note Riverside & Contemporary Collection
  • Shrink-wrapped
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 08/09/2020 (Publication Date) - Enlightenment (Publisher)

Baritone Saxophone

The baritone (or ‘bari’) saxophone is the largest of the 4 common types of saxophone, with an easily-recognisable curved neckpiece that circles back on itself before going into the classic saxophone shape.

This is a large instrument, even for a grown adult (when used in a seated position, it nearly touches the floor) and can be difficult to carry!

Due to it’s deep, dark sound, it’s less common as a solo instrument and tends to be most-used in large ensembles, such as big bands and jazz orchestras. That said, there are some notable jazz legends on this instrument and it can produce a range of sounds not heard on the other saxophones.

If you’re a complete beginner, this would be an unusual first instrument, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t brake the mold and give it a go! That said, an easy way into it would be to first choose the alto saxophone (which is in the same key, Eb) and then switch to the baritone a little later.

Recommended beginner baritone saxophone models

Baritone saxophone listening guide

Hear the best of the baritone saxophone with Gerry Mulligan, one of the leading jazz baritone saxophonists.

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8 Classic Albums
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • Reel to Reel (Publisher)

Which beginner saxophone is right for me?

We hope this quick run through has been useful for you!

Whilst there are other ‘specialist’ saxophones out there, These four are the most common and should provide you with ample choice. If you’re a complete beginner, your best bet would be to go for alto or tenor – with a preference for the smaller alto if the player is a young child.

If you have any further questions – or feedback on which you decide to use – let us know in the comments section!


*OK, we’ll go into it a little bit… Here are some of the ‘crazy’ saxophones out there:

Last update on 2020-08-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API