Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Solana. Solana Wonders, “Why, and how, do humans create spit?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Solana!

Do you have a favorite style of music? Many people enjoy jazz. Others love the sound of soul or reggae music. Maybe you’re more into the blues or rock. All of these styles have one thing in common. They’re likely to include the sound of one particular instrument. What are we talking about? The saxophone, of course!

In the mid-19th century, Adolphe Sax was a clarinet player from Belgium. But he also dreamed of making a new instrument. He wanted his invention to bridge the gap between woodwinds and brass instruments in the orchestra

Sax wanted his new instrument to have more range than brass instruments. But he also wanted it to be more powerful than woodwinds. Ultimately, he created the saxophone. He showed it off for the first time at the 1841 Brussels exhibition.

This instrument, also called the sax, is cone-shaped. It’s made of brass and is played with a reed mouthpiece. The sax is the only woodwind made of brass. Adolphe Sax patented it on June 28, 1846, in two groups of seven instruments each.

Many people don’t know that there are many types of saxes. The most commonly-played today are the soprano, alto,  tenor, and baritone saxophones. Each one has its own particular musical range. For example, soprano and alto saxophones play higher notes while tenor and baritones specialize in lower notes.

As Adolphe Sax intended, his instrument bridges the gap between woodwinds and brass instruments. Like the clarinet, sound is made by the vibration of a single-reed mouthpiece. Players press different combinations of keys to make notes. 

Like brass instruments, the bodies of saxophones are made of metal. They’re often brass plated in another metal, such as nickel, silver or gold. Two types of saxophones—baritone and contrabass—have something else in common with brass instruments. Like trumpets and trombones, they have a spit valve.

When you play a brass instrument, your breath will condense in the instrument. There, the water vapor in your breath cools. When this happens, it turns from a gas to a liquid. Then, it sits in the metal tubes of the instrument.

This water vapor (some of which is saliva or “spit”) collects in the instrument. If it builds up, it can affect its sound. To remove the water (or “spit”), players open the spit valve—also called the water key.

The water key or spit valve is a small hole that’s usually closed. It’s located at a spot where water will tend to build up due to gravity. Pressing the water key or spit valve will open the small hole, allowing the water to empty.

Have you ever played the saxophone? Give it a try! Like any instrument, it can be hard to learn at first. But with practice, you could be playing jazz music in no time!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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If you’re coming to Wonderopolis tomorrow, bring your friend Roy G. Biv with you!