The baritone saxophone, invented by Adolphe Sax, is one of the larger members of the saxophone family. It is bigger than the tenor saxophone and smaller than the bass. The instrument has a single reed similar to a clarinet and its fingering system is based on that of the oboe. It has an extra loop near the mouthpiece, helping to keep it at a height that is practical. It is made of brass with a tapered bore.
The baritone is one of the more common saxophones in today’s ensembles. The other three popular (smaller) members of the saxophone family are the alto, tenor, and soprano. But of the entire group, the tenor and alto are the most common. The baritone is in the key of E-Flat. Music is written not in the bass clef, but the treble clef.
The bari sax comes in two sizes. One ranges to a low A and the other two a low B-Flat. The first horn is called “A bari” while the other is called “Bb bari”. It must be noted that most of the music written for the baritone is written with a low Bb range.
The instrument is very big, heavy and cumbersome, and is therefore the most abused of the saxophone family. It is very prone to problems like tone hole damage, rod damage, body twists, and large dents. Due to its exceptional weight it is difficult to use the instrument in marching bands. As a result, a harness is used to distribute the weight of the baritone onto the player’s back and not around the neck.
Popularity of the instrument
The instrument is more popular in classical music than orchestral music. However, it has played a major role in concert bands, military bands and wind ensembles.
Notable past and recent performers include Harry Carney, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Hamiet Bluiett, John Surman, and Joe Temperley.