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Are Saxophones Horns, Brass Or Woodwinds? (Solved!)

Saxophones are one of the most common instruments and contribute to many musical ensembles.

Although they are common instruments, there is a lot of confusion about how to refer to saxophones!

Are Saxophones Horns, Brass, Or Woodwinds? (Or All Three?)

Saxophones are woodwinds, and most wind instruments are considered horns (therefore so are saxophones). While they are made of metal and commonly constructed of brass, they are not considered brass instruments. The saxophone is a woodwind because it uses a wooden reed to make a sound.

The rest of this article will tell you all you need to know about classifying saxophones, so you can better understand the instrument as a whole.

Read on to learn more about what makes an instrument a horn, brass, or woodwind.

Why Are Saxophones Woodwinds When They’re Made of Brass?

Saxophones are woodwinds, even when they’re made of brass, because they use reed vibrations to make a noise. On the other hand, brass instruments make sounds by means of the players’ lip vibrations.

A reed is a small strip of wood attached to the mouthpiece of a saxophone by a ligature, which is often made of metal or leather.

When you blow into a saxophone’s mouthpiece, the reed will vibrate and make a noise, which is then funneled into the rest of the instrument.

This reed is what classifies an instrument as a woodwind.

  • One exception to the reed rule is the flute. Flutes are considered woodwinds because they were traditionally made of wood.

However, being made of wood doesn’t automatically classify an instrument as a woodwind, just as being made of brass doesn’t automatically classify an instrument as brass.

It’s all about how the instrument actually functions and creates sound.

In fact, not all “brass instruments” are made of brass. Some are made of gold, silver, nickel, or other metals!

Whether or not an instrument is made of brass has nothing to do with being classified as a “brass instrument.”

A saxophone is made of brass, and it’s a woodwind. Some trumpets, for example, are not made of brass, and are still considered “brass instruments.”

Take for example this Bach 180S37 Stradivarius Series Bb Trumpet. It’s considered a brass instrument, even though it’s made primarily from silver.

In today’s world, the terminology depends on the actual function of the instrument and how one goes about playing it.

Here’s a quick reference:

  • Brass: This makes sound using lip vibrations.
  • Woodwinds: This makes sound using reed vibrations.

Read More: How Loud Are Saxophones?

Why Are Saxophones Made of Brass Instead of Wood?

Saxophones are made of brass instead of wood because brass is sturdy and produces a smoother sound. Wood is also less resistant to moisture than metal. While it is possible to have a wooden saxophone, this is very uncommon.

Another reason saxophones are made of brass is that brass is a lot more resistant to rust than other metals, such as iron.

  • This is extremely important because when you play any horn instrument, you are bound to deal with a lot of spit and moisture, which can cause the metal to rust.

While most saxophones are usually made of brass, other materials are sometimes used.

Some saxophones are constructed of brass and plated in another metal, such as silver or gold, as seen with this gold-plated Selmer Paris 92GP Supreme Alto Saxophone. Others are made with copper or bronze.

There are also dome saxophones that are made from wood, acrylic, or other plastics, such as this Nuvo Soprano Saxophone (available on Amazon.com). This soprano sax is made entirely of plastic.

However, there’s a reason most saxophones are usually made of brass.

In addition to being physically robust, when a saxophone is made of brass, the sound is said to come out much smoother and have higher quality overall.

Plastic saxophones will sound less smooth and a bit squeakier in terms of tone.

Is It Possible for a Saxophone To Be Made of Wood?

It is possible for a saxophone to be made of wood. Early saxophones were actually made of wood instead of brass. While wood saxophones are extremely rare and nowhere near as common as brass, bronze, or copper saxophones, a few do exist.

In fact, saxophones were initially made of wood, according to the Smithsonian. However, they were eventually changed to being made from brass instead.

This is because Sax (the inventor of the saxophone) wanted it to be a combination of brass instruments and woodwind instruments, in a sense.

He drew inspiration from the bass clarinet–which is typically made of wood–but eventually made the decision to construct the saxophone out of brass.

Transitioning from wood to metal allowed the saxophone to have its unique sound, which really does resemble a combination of other woodwind instruments and brass instruments.

Are Saxophones Technically Horns?

Saxophones are technically horns. Woodwinds are considered horns because the term generally refers to instruments you have to blow into, unless you’re referring to a French horn, which is commonly shortened to just a “horn.” Horns can also refer to sections of woodwinds and brass, or mixed sections.

The term is most commonly applied to wind instruments, as opposed to percussion instruments like drums or piano, or string instruments like violins or guitars, which do not require you to blow into a tube to create sound.

Here are some examples of a few common instruments that are considered horns or placed in the horn section:

  • Saxophones
  • Trumpets
  • Trombones
  • French horns
  • Clarinets
  • Bass clarinets
  • Oboes
  • French horns
  • English horns
  • Bassoons
  • Flutes
  • Etc.

Here are some examples of instruments that are not considered horns:

  • Percussion instruments like drums and piano
  • String instruments like violins, cellos, violas, stand up bass, etc.

As you can see, the term “horns” mostly refers to wind instruments as a whole.

Therefore, saxophones are generally considered horns.

Why Are Saxophones in the Horns Section of the Band?

Saxophones are in the horns section of the band because the term “horn” typically refers to wind instruments. Wind instruments are made of some sort of tube and require you to blow into them in order for the instrument to make a sound.

For example, let’s say you’re a part of a hypothetical rock band. Here are the instruments in your band:

  • Guitars
  • Bass guitars
  • Keyboards
  • Drums
  • Saxophones
  • Trumpets
  • Clarinets

The “horn section” would be composed of the saxophones, trumpets, and clarinets because these are all considered wind instruments, and wind instruments are often referred to as “horns.”

However, the guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, and drums would not be in the horn section, because they are not wind instruments and do not need to be blown into for producing sound.

Final Thoughts

Saxophones are a common favorite in the world of music, but despite this instrument’s popularity, the terminology can sometimes be a bit confusing.

To clarify:

  • Woodwinds use reed vibrations to make a sound. The saxophone is a woodwind.
  • Brass instruments use lip vibrations to make a sound. The saxophone is made of brass, but it is not a brass instrument.
  • Most wind instruments are classified as horns. The saxophone is generally considered a horn.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand saxophone terminology better, so you can continue to play or appreciate this instrument confidently.