Acoustics of the saxophone

Bb tenor saxophone


Music Acoustics UNSW

Conventional Fingering


a key depressed
a key not depressed
a hole covered
a hole uncovered
a part of the mechanism that is not normally touched
Details in fingering legend.

Acoustic schematic
a closed tone hole
an open tone hole

Non-specialist introduction to acoustic impedance
Non-specialist introduction to saxophone acoustics

Notes are the written pitch.
Frequencies are the sounding frequency, for Bb saxophone.
Unless otherwise stated, the impedance spectrum is for a Bb saxophone.

Impedance spectrum of a Bb tenor saxophone measured using fingering for B4.

At frequencies below about 1 kHz, this curve looks rather like that for A#4, but raised in frequency. At higher frequencies, however, the situation is complicated by the cut-off frequency. Here we have only two peaks that fall in the harmonic series: this fingering will bugle an octave, but no other note in the series. Above this frequency, the spacing of peaks in the upper part of the curve roughly equals that in the curve for the lowest note, A#3. This is because, at high frequency, the wave propagates past the open tone holes, reflecting only at the bell.

For general comments about the first register, see A#3. Compare with the impedance spectrum for a soprano sax on written B4: same fingering but sounding one octave higher.


Sound spectrum of a Bb tenor saxophone played using fingering for B4.
For more explanation, see Introduction to saxophone acoustics.

This sound spectrum includes transient excitation from the beginning of the note, and so has traces of a subharmonic being excited above 5 KHz. For general comments about the sound spectra of the first register, see A#3, which is the first note of that register.

Sound Clip

You can hear B4 played.

Fingering legend
How were these results obtained?

Contact: Joe Wolfe /
phone 61-2-9385-4954 (UT +10, +11 Oct-Mar)
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