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 E5.

This is the third note in the second register. It differs from E4 (the corresponding note in the first register) in that it uses a register hole. This causes a leak in the bore that weakens the first impedance peak, but has little affect on higher peaks – see register hole for an explanation, and compare with E4, whose impedance spectrum is almost identical except for the first peak. Above about 1 kHz, the curve is irregular: see the discussion in cut-off frequency.

This note is, acoustically at least, a cross fingering: there is a key closed below the first open key, as the schematic inset shows. Because of the large size of the tone holes, cross fingerings have little effect at low frequency.

Compare with the impedance spectrum for a soprano sax on written E5: same fingering but sounding one octave higher.


Sound spectrum of a Bb tenor saxophone played using fingering for E5.
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, seen in the range above 5 kHz (compare E4).

Sound Clip

You can hear E5 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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