How Many Keys Does a Saxophone Have? (Explained)

How Many Keys Does a Saxophone Have
Written by Corey Morgan

If you’re a fan of jazz, classical music, or simply enjoy the smooth sounds of a saxophone, you might have wondered how many keys this fascinating instrument has. Well, you’ve come to the right place!

In this blog post, we’ll explore the world of saxophone keys, their functions, and the different types of saxophones that exist. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the wonderful world of saxophone keys!

History and Development of the Saxophone

Before we delve into the number of keys on a saxophone, let’s take a brief look at the history and development of this beloved instrument. The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker, in the early 1840s.

Sax was inspired to create an instrument that bridged the gap between brass and woodwind instruments, and thus, the saxophone was born.

Invention by Adolphe Sax

Adolphe Sax’s invention featured a single-reed mouthpiece, much like a clarinet, and a conical metal tube with a flared bell at the end.

The original saxophone had 21 keys, allowing for a wide range of notes and tonal possibilities. Adolphe Sax’s design was revolutionary, and it quickly gained popularity among musicians.

Evolution of Key Mechanisms

Over the years, the saxophone underwent several key mechanism advancements to improve playability and ergonomics.

These developments led to the creation of different saxophone types, each with its own set of keys. Let’s take a closer look at the number of keys on each saxophone type and their functions.

Understanding the Saxophone Keys

Number of Keys

The number of keys on a saxophone depends on its type. Generally, saxophones have between 20 and 23 keys, including the octave key.

The specific keys and their arrangement may vary slightly between different manufacturers, but the core keys remain consistent across saxophone models.

Function of Each Key

Now, let’s explore the functions of some key elements commonly found on saxophones:

  1. Octave Key: The octave key is a pivotal key that allows the player to produce higher octaves by opening or closing an additional vent. When pressed, the pitch of the saxophone jumps up by an octave, expanding the instrument’s range.
  2. Tone Holes: Saxophones feature tone holes along the body, covered by keys. When the keys are pressed, the corresponding tone holes open or close, altering the pitch of the produced note.
  3. Palm Keys: Found on the upper part of the saxophone body, palm keys are operated by the player’s right hand. These keys enable the production of higher notes that are beyond the range of the regular fingerings.
  4. Bis Key: The bis key is located near the left-hand thumb rest and is used to produce the note B♭. Pressing this key closes an additional tone hole, altering the pitch.
  5. Trill Keys: Trill keys are small keys used to produce rapid alternations between two adjacent notes. They are typically operated by the player’s left hand and are crucial for achieving expressive trills and ornaments in music.

Types of Saxophones and Their Keys

Now that we have a better understanding of the saxophone keys’ functions, let’s explore the different types of saxophones and the specific keys they possess.

Soprano Saxophone

The soprano saxophone is the smallest and highest-pitched saxophone. It is often used in jazz and classical music. Soprano saxophones typically have 23 keys, including the octave key, bis key, palm keys, and other essential keys for playing in different registers.

Alto Saxophone

The alto saxophone is the most commonly played saxophone and is pitched in the key of E♭. It has a rich and expressive sound that suits a wide range of musical genres. Alto saxophones generally have 23 keys, including the octave key, bis key, palm keys, and trill keys.

Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone is slightly larger than the alto saxophone and is pitched in the key of B♭. It is often featured in jazz and rock music. Tenor saxophones typically have 23 keys, including the octave key, bis key, palm keys, and trill keys.

Baritone Saxophone

The baritone saxophone is the largest and lowest-pitched saxophone commonly used in various music genres, including jazz, classical, and marching bands. Baritone saxophones generally have 22 keys, including the octave key, bis key, palm keys, and trill keys.

Key Materials and Construction

Saxophone keys are typically made from brass or a similar metal alloy. Brass provides durability and strength while allowing for precise key movements.

The keys are intricately shaped and connected to a complex system of rods and levers that transmit the player’s finger movements to the corresponding tone holes.

Maintenance and Care of Saxophone Keys

To keep your saxophone keys in optimal condition, regular maintenance and care are essential. Here are a few tips to help you maintain your saxophone keys:

  1. Keep the keys clean: Wipe the keys with a soft cloth after each playing session to remove moisture, fingerprints, and dirt. This prevents the keys from sticking and maintains their appearance.
  2. Avoid excessive pressure: Apply gentle and even pressure when operating the keys. Excessive force can lead to misalignment or damage to the delicate key mechanisms.
  3. Inspect for damage: Regularly inspect the keys for any signs of wear, loose screws, or misalignment. If you notice any issues, it’s best to consult a qualified instrument repair technician.
  4. Use a proper case: When not in use, store your saxophone in a protective case to prevent accidental damage to the keys or other parts of the instrument.

Common Problems with Saxophone Keys

While saxophone keys are designed to withstand regular use, they may encounter certain issues over time. Here are a few common problems you might encounter with saxophone keys:

  1. Sticky keys: Keys can become sticky due to moisture buildup, dirt, or a lack of lubrication. Applying a small amount of key oil or lubricant can help alleviate the stickiness.
  2. Misaligned keys: Intense playing or accidental impacts can cause the keys to become misaligned. If you notice a key sticking out or not closing properly, it’s crucial to have it realigned by a professional repair technician.
  3. Worn-out pads: The pads on the saxophone keys can wear out over time, affecting the instrument’s tone and playability. Regular pad maintenance and replacement when necessary are essential to ensure optimal performance.


And there you have it! The saxophone is a truly remarkable instrument with its own set of keys that allows for a wide range of musical expression.

Whether you’re playing the soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone saxophone, understanding the functions and care of the keys is vital for maintaining the instrument’s playability and sound quality. So, keep those saxophone keys clean, lubricated, and in good repair, and let the smooth melodies flow!