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What Is a Pocket Saxophone?

By Amanda Livingstone
Updated May 23, 2024
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A pocket saxophone is a small, lightweight and inexpensive woodwind instrument that plays in a two-octave range. Visually, the pocket sized instrument’s shape resembles a small clarinet without all the keys. Musically, the small instrument mimics the rich, deep and vibrant sounds of the much larger tenor saxophone.

The small-sized pocket saxophone has the ability to produce subtle musical shadings and vibrant power of a larger instrument. It can play in a two-octave chromatic scale with the same intonation of the much larger tenor sax. Unlike the tenor sax, the pocket saxophone only can play in the key of “C.” Interestingly enough, this instrument plays two octaves lower than flutes of the same size.

Compared to a tenor saxophone’s 23 keys, the pocket saxophone only has a total of nine note-producing openings. The keyless appearance of the pocket instrument greatly appeals to beginners who may otherwise become intimidated by the many keys of a clarinet and saxophone. As in a tenor sax, the mouth piece, containing a reed and ligature, is attached to the slim and keyless body of the small woodwind instrument.

Experienced and inexperienced musicians alike have found the small instrument to be a portable, easy-to-use and inexpensive saxophone or clarinet alternative. Unlike the much larger saxophones, the small instrument measures less than 13 inches (33 cm) in total length, compared to the tenor saxophone’s 32 inches (81.3 cm). The pocket saxophone is also even smaller than the 26 inch (66 cm) clarinet.

Its lighter weight, which allows for increased portability, is another benefit of this diminutive instrument. A pocket saxophone weighs approximately 3 ounces (85 grams) due to the durable lightweight injection-molded-plastic material it is made from. The instrument’s relatively small size and weight easily allow people to carry or store the pocket saxophone in a backpack or large purse.

In addition to being easy to use and portable, this instrument is also extremely affordable. Prices will ultimately vary depending on availability, model and market conditions. New pocket instruments can cost between $50 and $100 US Dollars (USD).

Pocket saxophones are similar in size, price and appearance to bamboo saxophones. Two most notable differences between the two types are the casing material used and the key. Bamboo saxophones are mostly made from their namesake, but occasionally the instrument can be made from other types of wood. Unlike the pocket sized saxophone, the bamboo sax can play in three keys: C, B flat and D. Pricing for the bamboo saxophone is slightly higher than the pocket saxophone.

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Oct 05, 2011

I was at a concert the other day, and one of the band members was playing one of these. I thought it was really interesting because the sound sounded like a saxophone, but the instrument looked nothing like it. At first I thought it was a recorder, but decided it wasn't. I've been searching around trying to figure out what it was, and this is definitely it.

For anyone who has never heard or seen one, it is definitely worth looking at.

By jcraig — On Oct 04, 2011

@matthewc23 and @kentuckycat - I played the tenor saxophone for about ten years before I even knew the pocket saxophone existed. It was invented in the 60s or 70s but they didn't start becoming more common until the 2000s. Xaphoon is another name for the instrument, but is also a brand name.

As far as playing goes, a pocket sax uses a tenor saxophone reed. The fingering is similar, but not exactly like the saxophone or clarinet. The sound is a mix between the saxophone and clarinet, so it's not really like a recorder. Since the instrument has a reed, it is much harder to play than a recorder, too.

The pocket sax is definitely worth checking out for anyone who plays a reed instrument or likes uncommon instruments.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 03, 2011

@matthewc23 - I actually did see one of these in a music store not too long ago. I had no idea what it was at first, so I had to ask one of the employees. The one I saw was labeled as a xaphoon, but they said they are usually called pocket saxophones. I'm not sure if that is the most popular brand name or just an alternative instrument name.

At least on the one I saw, it looked like it took a normal tenor or alto saxophone reed. I couldn't tell you about the fingering, though. I'm sure if I could play the saxophone, it would be very fun to have one of these.

What I was wondering about was how a pocket sax compared to a recorder. Recorders don't have a reed or separate mouthpiece, but they are both about the same shape. I've never heard a pocket sax play to know what the sound is like, though.

By matthewc23 — On Oct 02, 2011

Wow, this was really interesting. I had no idea something like this even existed. I used to play the clarinet in band and was at the music store fairly regularly. I never saw a pocket sax there. How long have they been around?

What is the fingering like on the instrument? Could someone who plays the saxophone pick up a pocket saxophone and start playing it?

The article talks about it using a reed, too. What kind does it take? Is it just a normal saxophone reed, or does it need a reed of a certain size that's different from other instruments?

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