The Eb Baritone Saxophone

Known as the “bari”, the baritone sax is the fourth voice in the family. It is pitched in Eb and plays a M6 plus an octave below written.

Students should not be moved to this until at least junior high school; firstly, it is so big and heavy that a young player could be moved to discouragement after a short time. (The thing weighs between 15-20 lbs.) Secondly, due to its size and air requirements, a player must work hard for a long time to achieve good tone. Baritone sax requires a LOT of air. (NOTE: A player new to bari will have to get used to 3 embouchure changes. He must take more mouthpiece into his mouth than he is used to--top teeth go above where the reed meets the rails--and looser tension of the lips than tenor or alto. Third, the jaw must be down creating an open oral cavity.) Many new bari players are alto converts. The tendency for them is to take as much mouthpiece and to blow the same amount of air as an alto. The result is a thin, weak baritone sax sound.

In a concert band, it is basically a copy of the tuba and euphonium parts. It plays the same role as a bass or contra alto clarinet…which is to bolster the lower end of the sound pyramid. It has little independence in the wind ensemble or concert band.

And pity the poor kid who has to carry it in marching band. A director should ask, "Do I really need a bari sax out there on the football field?" Can the student be allowed to play alto during marching band season? It's hard enough to have a baritone sax hanging from the neck during concert band or wind ensemble. During rests the player can lay it across the lap. But he cannot be given the same luxury in marching band. The least the director can do is provide a harness-type neck strap...and then offer to pay the chiropractic bills that will follow twenty years later! Playing the bari while on a stand should be seriously considered when a student is in junior high school. There is no shame in this. Forget the macho stuff, it is for the player's own good and longevity. If the director chooses to take this route for his student, he should not use a bari sax stand that is open. That is, not the type where the sax sits in an open cradle. Rather, use a stand that has a separate brace that fastens around the bell section and clips onto or has a tongue that slides into the base of the stand.

Where this sax shines is in the jazz ensemble and the quartet. In the jazz band, it is the anchor for the sax section. It is also the liaison between the saxes and the trombones. There is a bond of sorts between the bari and the bass bone—if there is one in the J-band. The same can be said of the saxophone quartet. The bari is akin to the cello in a string quartet. It too is the platform for on which the other voices stand.

A note about the baritone sax sound. It is frequently said that in classical playing the bari should sound as much like a cello as possible. One of my teachers made a very good response to which I agree: The bari should not sound like a cello, but like a baritone sax. It is its own instrument and owes no apology or homage to any other. So when the bari player is playing the obligatory Bach Prelude to Suite No. 1 in G major for cello (BWV 1007), he should sound like a saxophone and not a cello.

Any student who plays bari should be under the same obligations of technique as the alto and tenor player. Too often—due to its easier parts—the weaker player is put on it. As a result, many bari players lack palm key skills, have trouble with arpeggios, and are behind their alto and tenor counterparts in general ability to negotiate the horn. I suggest they use an alto method or technique book, and take on the same demands. Yes, the bari mechanism is bigger and clumsier, but as a teacher if you don’t tell that to your student, he won't know differently.

Here’s a question to the baritone sax player: why do bari players always think it’s okay to carry around their horns by the loop at the top near the neck?! They would never do that to an alto or tenor. By doing so, you’re asking the two solder points that connect the loop to hold the entire weight of the instrument. Don’t do it. Carry it right. As with the other saxophones, the neck strap should always be hooked to the sax for added measure against an accidental drop. The strongest part of the horn is the bell section. Use two hands to carry the sax, or at least wrap an arm around the bell section. The larger the instrument the more prone it is to either being dropped or banged into something.

Baritone Saxophone

I played baritone sax from the seventh grade through my sophomore year of college.

This may sound snobbish--or blogish--but I always hated the name “bari sax”.

I grew tired of explaining to non-musicians that I was not a blueberry farmer. I did not carry “berry sacks”, but “bari” was slang for “baritone”. There…I’m done.

Baritone Saxophone

Here is my 1981 Yanigasawa 880. It goes down to low A.

Even back then, not every baritone model had a low A key. It was an extra option on some makes.

Presently, the low A is standard equipment…and it’s fun to play!

A college friend of mine had a pal who lived by a small pond with a row boat. He filled an old Conn bari sax with cement, tied one end of a chain around the loop, and used it as an anchor for the boat!

I couldn't believe my eyes when he raised that thing out of the water! Partial sadness at the sight; partial awe. I confess admiration at the creativity of the whole thing though.


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