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What Is a Saxophone Quartet?

By Judith Smith Sullivan
Updated May 23, 2024
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A saxophone quartet is a group of four musicians who play four saxophones in harmony. It is technically a consort, since it contains instruments of the same musical family. Usually, there is a soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and a baritone saxophone in the quartet. The soprano has the highest range of musical notes and the baritone the lowest. The quartet may consist of amateurs or professionals and can play a wide range of music on these highly portable instruments.

It is not uncommon to find various combinations of saxophones in quartets. For instance, a saxophone quartet may have two altos, a tenor, and a baritone. A bass saxophone might also be included, but a contrabass bass is extremely rare. This saxophone is almost 80 inches (203 cm) long and very heavy. Occasionally, saxophone quartets may include four of the same instrument, such as four soprano saxophones, to achieve a specific musical effect.

The quartet usually plays arrangements, or musical pieces, composed or adapted specifically for saxophone groups. They may be classical pieces or popular songs. Since the saxophone is a versatile instrument, virtually any style of music can be arranged for it.

The type of music played may be homophonic or polyphonic. Homophonic music is a style in which all four parts play the same rhythms with complimentary notes to create harmony. Polyphonic music is also very harmonic, but each line of music is independent of the others. The melody often overlaps since multiple lines of music are playing at the same time. The effect is complex but very beautiful.

Saxophone quartets are formed by students, professionals, and amateurs alike. It is very common for colleges and universities to have saxophone quartets, as this gives students an additional mode of study and practice. It also expands students' repertoire of music and musical styles. Amateurs may form a saxophone quartet for their own personal enjoyment. Professionals may be paid to perform in a saxophone quartet that often travels to different venues.

Since saxophones are typically quite small, they are easy to transport. They are also relatively affordable, compared to many instruments, and available through most music instrument retailers. These two factors make the instrument more convenient than other larger and more expensive instruments, such as the upright bass, french horn, or harp. Traveling groups find that the small size of the instrument allows them to play in more locations, such as private parties or on small stage platforms. The saxophone also projects well, so additional amplification equipment is rarely needed.

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