The single reed musical category comprises instruments that require the use of the reed to produce sound. Since saxophone and clarinet are the most common instruments in this group, it is worth knowing them and how they compare. Read on to find out more.
Being a musically inclined person, I love the rich, woody sounds of the woodwind family instruments. However, when it comes to choosing an instrument, I see that many people debate which of the two common instruments in this family, saxophone and clarinet, is better.
I will talk about the differences between saxophone and clarinet and help you make an informed decision. Specifically, I will use the two most common types of clarinet and saxophone that most people start on; the Bb clarinet and the alto sax.
What are the differences between alto saxophone vs clarinet?
Note: The comparison is between alto saxophone and the Bb clarinet.
|Feature||Alto Saxophone||Bb Clarinet|
|Instrument family||Woodwind Family||Woodwind Family|
|Sound creation||Vibrating reed on the musical instrument’s mouthpiece||Vibrating reed on the musical instrument’s mouthpiece|
|Ensemble||Jazz, Band, Popular music, Saxophone quartets,||In most musical events or concerts but mainly: Jazz, Band, Orchestra|
|Voice (range)||Alto (Db3-Ab5)||Soprano (D3-Bb6)|
|Number of keys||About 20||17|
|Length of the musical instrument tubing||3.9 ft. (1.2 m)||26 in. (66 cm)|
|Approximate cost for average level instrument||$5,000||$2,500|
|Role in ensembles||Harmony, occasional melody||Melody or ornamentation|
|Other versions of the instrument||Soprano, Tenor, Alto, and Baritone||Bb Clarinet, Bass clarinet, A clarinet, and Eb clarinet|
|When the instrument was invented||In the 1840s||Around 1700|
|General sound description||Round, strong, and deep||Rich, soothing, and mellow|
|How to alter the Pitch||Pressing the instrument’s keys covers and uncovers its tone holes altering the vibration frequency (Hz)||Pressing the instrument’s keys covers and uncovers its tone holes altering the vibration frequency (Hz)|
|Material||Typically brass protected with a yellow lacquer||Typically wood for high-quality option and plastic for the cheaper option|
Alto Saxophone vs Clarinet – How They Compare
The two instruments share much in common but look widely different.
The saxophone is made of brass and coated with yellow lacquer. It has four main parts; mouthpiece, neck, body, and bell.
The right side of the instrument’s body is covered in keys (approximately 20). When you hold the instrument upright, it is slightly inclined from the mouthpiece to the neck. It then curves downwards at a steep angle from the neck to the lowest part of the body. The instrument then curves upwards at the elbow with the bell at the end facing up.
If you were to straighten it, the saxophone would measure 39 ft. (1.2m).
On the other hand, the Bb clarinet is made of wood for high-end options and plastic for the cheaper ones. It is mostly black.
The clarinet has five parts; mouthpiece, barrel, upper joint, lower joint, and bell. Along the instrument’s barrel are keys that are spread out evenly. Pressing the keys covers the tone holes spread at the center of the lower and upper joints. When playing it, the bell faces downwards at an angle.
The instrument measures 26 inches (66 cm) in length.
The alto saxophone wins this category because it looks more appealing than the Bb clarinet.
The alto saxophone produces an alto voice with a range of Db3-Ab5. On the other hand, the clarinet produces a high soprano voice with a range of D3-Bb6.
Both instruments have a similar lower range’ However, the clarinet loses a reasonable amount of its power in the lower range-known for its mellow, airy quality.
The clarinet also boasts a more easily accessible wide range. Conversely, the saxophone can play higher if you use the advanced altissimo technique.
The alto saxophone wins in this category because it stays strong throughout its wide range.
Both instruments boast an articulate yet rich tone. Despite the seemingly great similarity in their tone, they have different melodies.
The saxophone has a rich, strong, and punchy melody. On the other hand, the clarinet has a pure, soaring, and mellow melody.
The saxophone wins in this category because it has a stronger and richer sound.
The two musical instruments have similar fingering systems. What separates the two instruments in this category is a key difference.
The alto sax features an octave key. When playing the musical instrument, its notes instantly shift up an octave if you hit the key. Despite the shift, the combination of saxophone fingerings and the notes produced remains almost the same.
Its fingering is easier to remember compared to the Bb clarinet. However, it requires more air/effort to produce a good melody.
On the other hand, the clarinet features a register key. For this instrument, the lower and upper registers are completely different. It’s almost like playing two different instruments.
Its fingering is harder to remember than an alto saxophone but requires less air/effort to produce a good melody.
Therefore, while the fingering seems to follow the same pattern for the two instruments, a huge difference exists.
This category is a draw because the two instruments’ fingering system is almost identical.
Role in ensembles
The two instruments have different roles in ensembles. The alto Saxophone brings harmony and occasional melody. On the other hand, the clarinet brings melody or ornamentation. When played simultaneously, they complement each other because they produce different melodies.
This category is a draw because the two instruments have unique roles, and none is better than the other.
Age of the instrument
Both have been around for some time. However, the clarinet has been around longer than the saxophone. No evidence exists on the exact date or year the clarinet was invented. However, it is thought to have been invented in 1700.
On the other hand, the saxophone is a bit younger than the clarinet. It was invented in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax.
The clarinet wins in this category because it has been around longer than the saxophone.
The two instruments belong to the same family-woodwind family. Both are wind instruments or aerophones because they use air to produce sound.
Additionally, they have the same features, such as; a reed, mouthpiece, and bell.
This category is a draw since both instruments belong to the same family.
The fingering system for musical instruments is slightly different. However, the method you use to change notes while playing the instruments is the same.
This category is a draw since the method you use to change notes is similar for two instruments.
Both instruments are seen in the same ensembles. You will commonly find the two instruments being played side-by-side in concert bands and jazz ensembles.
It is common to see the two instruments being played in school bands.
This category is a draw since both instruments are played in the same ensembles.
The maintenance procedure for the two musical instruments is the same. Clean your music instrument (Alto saxophone or Bb clarinet) after playing it.
This category is a draw since the maintenance procedure is the same for musical instruments.
Alto saxophone vs. Bb clarinet: A Comparison Overview
The instrument is classified as an Eb instrument. Music for this musical instrument is written a major 6th down from the concert pitch. Its range starts at Db-3 and ends at Bb-5.
It is the right pick for you if you want a versatile instrument that can fit every skill level or playing situation.
- Produces a round, deep, strong melody
- Easy to play
- It is easy to maintain
- It is very versatile
- Require more air to produce a good melody
- Cumbersome to carry
- It has to be cleaned frequently; otherwise, it will fun up
The instrument is classified as a Bb instrument. Music for this instrument is written down a major 2nd higher from the concert pitch. Its range starts at E-3 and goes to G-6.
Go no further if you want a versatile musical instrument that can fit every skill level or playing situation. Additionally, it is durable; it will last for a long period if you take good care of it.
- It produces a rich, mellow, soothing melody.
- Easy to play
- It has a more easily accessible wide range
- It is easy to maintain
- It is durable
- Some models of this instrument come with low-quality reeds.
- Loses its power in the lower range
- Corks are extremely tight in some cases
Verdict: So which one is better? Saxophone or clarinet?
Saxophones and clarinets will work better for different people based on the skill level and musical needs. In terms of the overall winner, the saxophone wins because it stays strong throughout its wide range. On the other hand, the clarinet loses much of its power in the lower range.
Should I begin playing with saxophone or clarinet?
Both are close in difficulty level and make excellent beginner instruments. Whichever you choose to start with depends on the one that is easier for you to make a sound on and the one you are more interested in.
Which one is easier to play between a saxophone and clarinet?
Both instruments are close in difficulty level, and learning either would be essentially the same.
Is the saxophone quieter than the clarinet?
No, while both instruments produce soft melodies, the clarinet is quieter than the saxophone.