What Is a Bass Saxophone?

The bass saxophone is the saxophone family’s second largest instrument. The bass saxophone, designed Adolphe Sax in the late 1800s, differs from other popular saxophones in that it has a wider loop around the mouthpiece, a longer curvature throughout the body, and a much larger overall size. It produces a sound that is two octaves lower than that of a soprano saxophone. The instrument has been incorporated into the sound of jazz musicians, big band groups, and rock bands.

The contrabass saxophone is the only saxophone that is taller than the bass saxophone. The contrabass can grow to be over 6 feet long, making it difficult to transport or play. Because the contrabass is a rare instrument, only a few exist. While the bass saxophone is still several feet long, it is more popular than the contrabass because of its smaller size.

The bass saxophone, as a member of the saxophone family, resembles the other instruments in appearance, with the largest size difference being the most noticeable difference between the bass and other instruments. The bass has a longer loop coming off the mouthpiece than a baritone saxophone. In addition, the neck of the bass saxophone has a longer curvature.

Because of the larger size, musicians can play a deep, resonating bass line. The instrument’s range is a fourth lower than that of a baritone saxophone, and it plays in B flat. Composers write music for the bass sax in treble clef, but when played, the sound is much lower.

Hector Berlioz was one of the first composers to employ the bass saxophone in a major work. In the late 1800s, Berlioz began using the saxophone in his compositions. The instrument had made an appearance in a few operas and other compositions the turn of the century. With the rise of big band and jazz music in the 1920s, it reached its pinnacle of popularity.

Many big band players preferred the deep sounds produced the bass saxophone shortly after World War I, and several jazz groups included a bass sax player. Around the 1950s, the instrument began to fade in popularity as smaller instruments supplanted it. Few jazz musicians, such as Scott Robinson and Anthony Braxton, prefer the larger instrument in 2011, and a few popular rock bands, such as Fishbone and They Might be Giants, have also adopted it.