What Is The Lowest Note On Alto Sax?

lowest note on alto saxophone banner

A lot of people love to write music for or play the saxophone, and you may start to wonder exactly how low it can go. 

Instruments are always fascinating to my music students and me, so let’s take a look. 

The alto saxophone’s lowest note is a written Bb, which is a concert Db3. This note means it plays the note a major seventh below middle C or C4. To play this note, you need to use all three main keys on both hands as well as the lower-key for both pinkies. 

Playing the lower notes on saxophone is more involved than just fingering and blowing; read more in the rest of the article. 

Lowest Note On The Alto Saxophone

As mentioned above, the lowest note for the alto sax is Bb or A#, which sounds like Db3 or C#3 in concert pitch. 

What does concert pitch mean? Many instruments read music that shows a different pitch than what their instrument sounds. 

This makes it much easier for them to read and switch between each different type of saxophone. 

The frequency of the actual sounding note is commonly called concert pitch. This is the note you’ll see when you tune your saxophone (click to check out our guide). 

A non-transposing instrument, like the flute, reads what note they play. With saxes, a musician plays different notes, but the written pitches are the same across all types. 

 In fact, the lowest written pitch for all types of saxes is the Bb, though the sounding note is different (more on this below). 

The note looks like this: 

lowest note on alto sax written

How To Play Low Bb On Saxophone

When it comes to playing the lower register, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

First, you need to finger the note correctly. Use your index finger, middle finger, and ring finger on both hands to press the larger, main keypads.

You’ll also need to press the lower of the two keys on each pinky finger. 

The lowest and highest notes on the sax show when you have an improper embouchure. Here are a few tips to help you through the lower notes: 

  • Keep your lips tight around the mouthpiece. 
  • Lower your tongue in your mouth to provide space. 
  • Engage your abdomen and diaphragm to give energy to your air. 
  • Imagine you’re blowing warm air. 

These are all excellent tips for a good tone as well, but with the low range, it’s a must. 

A saxophonist must keep a good embouchure at all times. It’s the key to good sound. 

Lowest Notes For All The Saxophone Family

Yes, all saxes have the same written lowest note, but they don’t all sound the same. Check out this simple table to help you figure out what each lowest tone is. 

Types Of SaxophoneWritten NoteConcert Pitch (Sounding Note)
Sopranino SaxBbDb4
Soprano SaxophoneBbAb3
Alto SaxBbDb3
Tenor SaxophoneBbAb2
Baritone Saxophone (Bari Saxophone)BbDb2
Bass SaxophoneBbAb1
Contrabass SaxophoneBbDb1

How Low Does The Alto Sax Play Compared To Other Instruments?

The saxophone family is one of those groups, like many of the woodwind families where the types of instruments cover a variety of ranges. But for this question, let’s look at the alto sax and its range compared to typical band instrumentation. 

For this, we’ll move all instruments to their concert pitch. Remember, the number after the letter tells us the notes relative to middle C or C4.

C4 is the note in the middle of the piano and the middle of the grand staff. 

lowest note on alto sax compared

The image above shows the lowest note of the major band instruments in relation to one another. The alto sax is considered an alto voice (this is where it gets its name). 

Alto is considered the middle, high voice, and the image reflects that. 

Note: These are the “standard lowest notes.” Brass instruments have the ability to strectch farther with pedal tones, but those are advanced.

Though the clarinet can play almost as low as the alto, it’s a much quieter and airier sound, so it usually plays in a higher range. The alto has a stronger low register. 

FAQ

How Do You Get Low Notes On Alto Sax?

To get low notes on any sax, you need to press down more keys, lower your tongue to give more space in your mouth, blow warmer air, and keep your embouchure tight. 

What Is The Lowest Sounding Saxophone?

The lowest sounding sax is typically considered the contrabass sax with a written Bb that sounds at a concert pitch of Db1. This is two octaves and a major seventh below middle C. 

Of the common saxes, the baritone sax is considered the lowest one. It plays a written Bb, which sounds at a concert pitch of Db2, one octave, and a major seventh below middle C. 

What Is The Highest Note On Alto Sax?

The highest note on the modern alto sax is the written F6 (concert pitch Ab5). 

Many intermediate saxophones and professional saxophones include a high F# key. This stretches the high note to written F#6 (concert pitch A5). 

It’s possible to hit higher notes with the use of the altissimo technique, but the majority of saxophone players won’t use this in their regular course of playing. 

Click to learn more about the range of the alto sax

Why Can’t I Hit Low Notes On Saxophone?

Low notes on the sax expose weaknesses in your embouchure and air management. The most common reason for low notes not sounding or squeaking is a loose embouchure with too much forced air. 

Relax, keep your embouchure tight, and blow warm, supported air. It’ll come with practice. 

Which Saxophone Is Most Popular?

The alto saxophone is the most popular type of saxophone. It’s excellent for beginners due to its size and playability. 

The tenor sax is close behind in terms of popularity and usefulness. 

If you’re interested in buying a sax, check out our buyer’s guides for the alto and beginners: 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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