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As the most popular and widely-used member of the saxophone family, the alto sax is a fixture in a huge variety of musical genres, from classical to jazz to contemporary. Though it is generally made of brass, the alto, like all saxophones, is classified as a woodwind due to its use of a reed and close similarity to the clarinet. The saxophone was created around the year 1840 by legendary instrument maker Adolphe Sax. These weren't the only instruments that Sax designed, but he considered them to be his magnum opus and so he named them after himself. Sax imagined a total of 14 different varieties of saxophone, of which the alto saxophone is the most common today. Besides the sound, ease of use also sets the alto apart from other saxophones. It's not particularly big, so you don't need large hands to play it. The relatively small mouthpiece is easy to master. It requires less air than other saxophones and there is a wide variety of saxophone music written with the alto in mind. For all of these reasons as well as the overall design of the instrument, an alto saxophone is the perfect introduction for a new player to learn correct posture, breathing technique, fingering and embouchure. To make an informed choice when picking out a saxophone, you'll want to pay close attention to the details—in particular, the keys, pads and finish. For beginners, a student model with stamped keys and cardboard or felt pads is a good starting point. If you are a more experienced player, you will most likely prefer die-cast keys with leather pads for longevity and the best possible seal around the keyholes. Most saxophones are available with a lacquer finish which has little, if any, effect on the sound, while higher-end models will often give you a choice of plated finishes. Plating does impact the sound—silver plating adds brightness and clarity, which is ideal for marching bands, and gold plating brings greater warmth for a more weighty tone. Other things to look for in an alto saxophone include the accessories it comes with, such as a case, mouthpiece and reeds, as well as the engraving, if any, as a matter of preference. Above all, choose a model that matches your skill level as closely as possible. Whether you're in a marching band or an orchestra, or even setting out to be the next Anthony Braxton, your saxophone is as personal a choice as your favorite song.
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