The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. 

Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in E♭, smaller than the B♭ tenor but larger than the B♭ soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular musicconcert bandschamber musicsolo repertoiremilitary bandsmarching bandspep bands, and jazz (such as big bandsjazz combos, and swing music).

The alto saxophone had a prominent role in the development of jazz. Influential jazz musicians who made significant contributions include Don RedmanJimmy DorseyJohnny HodgesBenny CarterCharlie ParkerSonny StittLee KonitzJackie McLeanPhil WoodsArt PepperPaul Desmond, and CannonballAdderley.Although the role of the alto saxophone in classical music has been limited, influential performers include Marcel MuleSigurdRaschèrJean-Marie LondeixEugene Rousseau, and Frederick L. Hemke.

As with most saxophones, the alto’s written range is B♭3 to F6 (or F♯6), with the higher altissimo register starting at F♯6 (or G6). The saxophone’s altissimo register is more difficult to control than that of other woodwinds and is usually only expected from advanced players. The alto saxophone is a transposing instrument, with pitches sounding a major sixth lower than written. In terms of concert pitches, the alto saxophone’s range is from concert D♭3 (the D♭ below middle C—see Scientific pitch notation) to concert A♭5 (or A5 on altos with a high F♯ key).

Notable jazz alto saxophonists include Charlie ParkerCannonballAdderleyJohnny HodgesPaul DesmondBenny CarterOrnette ColemanBobby WatsonEric DolphyMarshall AllenArt PepperJulius HemphillOliver LakeAnthony BraxtonHenry ThreadgillCarlos WardDavid SanbornDave KozTom ScottPaquito D’RiveraJohn ZornTim BerneSteve WilsonSteve ColemanGreg OsbyVincent HerringMark GrossKenny Garrett, and Jeff Coffin.

The alto saxophone has a large classical solo repertoire that includes solos with orchestra, piano, and wind symphony. Two important solo compositions are Jacques Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera” and Alexander Glazunov’s “Concerto in E Flat Major”.The alto saxophone is found in the standard instrumentation of concert bands and saxophone quartets. Alexander Glazunov composed his Saxophone Quartet in B-flat major in 1932.

Companiesthatcurrentlyproduce saxophones include Buffet CramponKHS/JupiterConn-SelmerSelmer ParisYamahaLeblanc/VitoKeilwerthCannonball, and Yanagisawa.

Photo by Konstantin Aal on Unsplash