Saxophones have been around for centuries. They’re one of the most commonly appreciated instruments out there, and have been in all sorts of different types of music groups.
But do they belong in band or orchestra?
Saxophones do belong in both band and orchestra. However, while there are orchestras that include woodwinds, it’s not as common. Traditionally, orchestras are primarily composed of string instruments like violins, while symphonic and concert bands include a wider variety of instrument groups.
The rest of this article will explain a saxophone’s place in both band and orchestra, so you can better understand its purpose as an instrument in both types of musical groups.
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Why Aren’t Saxophones Common in Orchestras?
Saxophones aren’t as common in orchestras because an orchestra typically consists of mainly string instruments. While it’s still possible for an orchestra to have woodwind instruments like a saxophone, it’s not as common.
Music for string instruments can be very different in terms of style and sound, which is why they are often separated into different ensembles.
An orchestra is an ensemble of instruments that puts on formal performances. More often than not, the majority of orchestras are composed entirely of string instruments.
On the other hand, a symphonic or concert band is composed of a wider variety of instruments like woodwinds, percussion, and brass.
So why is this the case? Let’s take a look!
At first, because the saxophone is so good at blending together with other instruments, it was predicted by inventor Adolphe Sax and composers to grow more popular in orchestral settings.
But unfortunately, some people boycotted the instrument due to Sax’s unfavorable business habits, which made it hard to find saxophone players and ensembles willing to take one in.
A Second Challenge For The Sax Getting Into Orchestras
Another challenge the saxophone faced during its early years as a new instrument in the 19th century was the fact that it was just so uncommon.
Again, it was new, and not many people knew how to play it during the time when string composition was still in its prime.
The first person to take a saxophone into their orchestra ensemble was Jean-Georges Kastner, who happened to be a good friend of Sax.
With the endorsement of Sax’s friends and other supporters of the instrument, the saxophone was able to rise in popularity, but it isn’t as common in orchestras as it is in other ensembles like symphonic, jazz, and rock bands.
Are There Orchestras That Feature Saxophones?
As I mentioned before, saxophones are not very common in most orchestral ensembles, which typically consist of string instruments. But are there orchestras that feature saxophones?
There are orchestras that feature saxophones. Some orchestral ensembles add woodwinds to the mix to strengthen their sound and add more complexity to their performances.
The saxophone was actually initially created to be an instrument that could blend well with both bands and orchestras.
Adolphe Sax’s vision for the saxophone included its ability to sound well with strings, while also providing a stronger sound suitable for bands.
Now, it lives as one of the most beloved instruments for woodwind and jazz bands, and even some rock bands.
It’s not as common in orchestral settings, but there are always exceptions to every rule, and some orchestras do include this instrument in their group.
So what other groups are saxophones found in?
Are Saxophones Good for Marching Band?
When you think of a marching band, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably a trumpet or a bass drum. But do saxophone players have a place in marching bands?
Saxophones are good for marching band because they are loud, easy to carry, and add a lot of depth to the overall sound. A marching band with a baritone saxophone will have a much broader bass sound, and adding an alto sax can help bring out the melodies and higher-voice parts.
Let’s expand upon these points in further detail.
Saxophones Improve the Sound of Marching Bands
While brass and percussion instruments are vital to any marching band’s integrity, woodwinds are also important parts of the ensemble.
The saxophone is considered an essential part of most American marching bands.
Alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones are the most commonly used saxophones, and with these, you can expand the variety, volume, and overall quality of your marching band’s sound.
Here is an example of a really great marching band performance on YouTube that features saxophones:
As you can see in the video, this marching band has a few saxophone players on the left of the screen.
In this example, you can hear how having saxophones makes the music sound rich and full.
Saxophones Have Neck Straps and Are Easy To Carry
In addition to improving the overall sound of the ensemble, saxophones are also very easy to carry.
This is because they have straps you can wrap around your neck, and with a baritone saxophone (the larger one), you have a harness.
In my years as a high school student, I marched with a baritone saxophone and a flute during different parades and performances.
- I actually found carrying the bari to be easier than carrying the flute because you don’t have to use a lot of arm strength to hold it up, thanks to the harness.
While tenor and baritone saxophones can be a little heavy, the neck straps and harnesses take on a considerable amount of weight, so it’s surprisingly easy to march with these instruments.
Which Saxophones Are Best for a Marching Band?
Saxophones are excellent instruments to include in any marching band. They give marching ensembles the ability to perform with more depth to their sound.
But which saxophones are best for marching band?
The best saxophones for marching bands are alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Alto saxophones are light, easy to hold, and strengthen the melody. Baritone saxophones do a great job adding bass and carrying the rest of the band. Tenor saxophones do a bit of both.
Soprano saxophones can still be good additions to a marching band, but they’re not as common.
They’re also more fragile and tend to be more expensive, which is always a risk for any marching band.
Higher-end student grade saxophones are the best for marching band. Student grade instruments tend to run cheaper, which is good because it can be easy to drop instruments during marching band.
Sticking to a higher-end student grade instrument will still ensure good sound quality.
What Role Does the Saxophone Have in Marching Band and in an Orchestra?
The saxophone has different roles in marching band and orchestra. In marching band, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones are used to add variety and volume to the sound.
In an orchestra, alto saxophones are more common and are used for their smooth sound and ability to blend well with strings.
A marching band plays a lot of loud and quick-paced music. Volume is one of the most critical parts of any marching band because they usually have to reach an audience in a large space, such as a football field.
Since saxophones are very loud instruments, they do a great job of helping the ensemble accomplish this.
However, the role of a saxophone in an orchestra is very different. Orchestras typically play classical music, which requires a lot of volume control and the ability to blend well in tone and loudness.
This is trickier to accomplish with tenor and baritone saxophones because they are very loud and large, so volume is physically challenging to control.
Alto saxophones usually have a more prominent role in orchestral ensembles due to this.
Saxophones are beautiful instruments favored for their range of volume and ability to blend well with different types of ensembles.
While some orchestral ensembles include woodwinds here and there, they aren’t as standard, so saxophones are rarely seen in orchestral settings.
However, they remain extremely popular in jazz, marching, symphonic, and rock bands.
Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand the saxophone and its role in different ensembles, so you can continue to play or appreciate this instrument in confidence.