In the mid 19th century, a musical instruments manufacturer from Belgium created a new series of instruments unlike any that had ever been seen. Adolphe Sax, who played clarinet, wanted to create an instrument that would bridge the gap between woodwinds and brass instruments in the orchestra.
Sax hoped to create a new line of instruments that would have more range than current brass instruments yet be more powerful than current woodwinds. Ultimately, he created the saxophone, which he exhibited for the first time at an 1841 Brussels exhibition.
Commonly known as the “sax,” the saxophone is a cone-shaped musical instrument made of brass that’s played with a reed mouthpiece similar to a clarinet. The sax is the only woodwind instrument made of brass.
Adolphe Sax patented the sax on June 28, 1846, in two groups of seven instruments each. Many people don’t realize that there are actually many types of saxophones.
Each sax has its own particular musical range. For example, alto and soprano saxophones play higher notes, while tenor and baritone saxophones specialize in lower notes.
As Adolphe Sax intended, the sax bridges the gap between woodwinds and brass instruments. Like the clarinet, sound is generated by the vibration of a single-reed mouthpiece.
The sax also allows the player to play different notes by pressing different combinations of keys that open or close tone holes. Like brass instruments, the bodies of saxophones are made of metal, usually brass that is often plated in another metal, such as nickel, silver or gold.
When you play a brass instrument, your warm, moist breath will condense inside the instrument. What this means is that the warm water vapor in your breath will be cooled as it travels through the cooler metal tubes of the instrument.
When this happens, it turns from a gas to a liquid and sits in the metal tubes of the instrument. As this water vapor (and, yes, some of it will consist of saliva or “spit”) collects in the instrument, it can affect its sound.
To remove the accumulated water (or what players call “spit”), players open the spit valve — also called the “water key.” The water key or spit valve is a small hole that’s usually closed.
It’s located at a spot where water will tend to accumulate naturally due to gravity. Pressing the water key or spit valve opens the small hole, allowing the water to empty.