If I have, say, a trumpet and a tenor saxophone (among a larger ensemble), and the trumpet is leading the melody in a semi-high register. Can I double it in the middle register, with the saxophone, and still make it sound good? (There is heavy brass accompanying the melody around that range as well.)

3 Answers 3


It would probably work ok, but I doubt it would be very effective.

There is heavy brass accompanying the melody around that range as well.

That means right away that the saxophone won't be very audible. That in itself isn't too much of a problem since the trumpet will manage to cut through and make the melody clear, but you need to consider what purpose the saxophone would fulfill, then. Again, doubling a lead voice can absolutely be a useful thing even if the lead completely dominates the doubling instrument. For example

  • If you double a whole string bass section with a single bassoon, the bassoon will be almost completely inaudible, but it does add a bit of a clearer definition to the notes.
  • Doubling a blaring brass unisono with piccolo doesn't add any more sound pressure, but does make it a lot more brilliant.
  • Doubling a melody in the violins with soft horns adds quite some body and warmth, without changing the perceived tibre or taking away from the violins' silkiness.

So what does doubling a trumpet with a lower saxophone accomplish? It could certainly help to counter the tendency of a trumpet to sound thin and harsh, by adding some reedy character below. But I don't see any need for this if there's already a fat carpet of other voices present.

On the flip side, there's actually a few effects that you probably don't want, which might happen if you add the saxophone.

  • The saxophone will have notes that clash with the brass instruments in the same register. Since both brass and sax have quite similar wide-band overtone spectra, there is little chance for the listener's ears to sort this out again. So it does mean you move towards an indistinct noise-war. This may be fine if you're writing film music for a fighting scene, want to convey the emotions of a football match or something like this, but otherwise I'd think again whether this is really benefitial for your work.
  • It can be difficult to get a unison between trumpet and sax properly played together, in terms of both intonation, loudness balance and rhythm. (It's not that precision is inherently more difficult to achieve than with other instrument combinations, it's just that this is one that makes any small discrepancies particular obvious to the listener.) Good players will manage for sure, but it is a risk factor that may just not be worth it.
    Of course, the ensemble will to some degree wash over any problems here, but this also makes it even more likely that any clashes blend into even more of an indistinct cacophony.
  • If your goal is to create a really strong, full sound in that passage – this doubling may actually be counterproductive.
    • A trumpet is on its own then it will be completely clear what its job is, and the player focus on blazing out its part in all the trumpet's battle-cutting glory. If the trumpet needs to share the triumph with the saxophone, this may not work out as well.
    • Likewise, the brass accompaniment may work better if it doesn't need to give any thought for accommodating the saxophone to share its register. If they have that range for themselves, they can just focus on laying down a heavy wall of sound, making it impenetrable because the trumpet just flies over and no saxophone needs to ram through, and with tight intonation and no distracting melody changing-notes.
  • Thanks for your answer! Those benefits aren't too useful for my current situation (that fat carpet is very much present!), and the drawbacks are really spot-on. Guess i should find something else for the saxophonists to do.
    – FredrikH-R
    Oct 18, 2022 at 17:30

I support and agree with both of the answers by leftaroundabout and Tim.

But I also wanted to offer some additional information, in that I would argue that this kind of doubling will be very effective given the right ensemble size. It's a relatively common procedure when arranging four-part chorales (hymns, etc.) for brass quintets: putting the melody in Trumpet I and Trombone, in octaves, really strengthens that line.


Yes, it'll sound fine, unless that sax player's original part is just left as an unplayed important part, say the crucial third or seventh of the harmony (so another player ought to play those).

Best way to determine is to hear it played! Nothing wrong with doubling, or playing two instruments an octave apart. Sometimes, though, not constantly.

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