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Thread: Tenor vs. Alto

  1. #1

    Default Tenor vs. Alto

    What exactly are the differences? Besides the obvious tone, is one "easier" to play than the other? Is fingering the keys on one more difficult than the other? How does the differences in size affect using the horn?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    i cant believe no answers.

    they are all fun. one probably talks to you though. ive known some people feel like they think in Eb so alto and bari. some Bb, tenor and soprano.

    i learned on tenor. now almost all learn on alto i thnk first. it probably affects how you feel about them.

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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Alto is a bit more demanding as far as intonation goes. On jazz tunes, Alto tends to be in sharp keys Tenor flat keys. Tenors are heavier and your hands are further apart. Which you choose comes down to personal taste, and temperament..
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Play the one that calls out to you the most. It will be your voice. In the long, run unless there is something specifically limiting about your size or health, the differences make little difference. If you are making a pros and cons list of which is easier you will end up with a casio keyboad from Costco. What do you want to hear...which do you think expresses your musical thinking?
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    The overtones on tenor can sound much different than an alto, and have almost a sweeter tone, the altissimo on tenor is easier and can be sweeter into a higher range, I like alto better though, just fits me better.

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    Forum Contributor 2011 SuperMadHatter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Play them both if you can and alternate them. Lately, I've been on a tenor kick.......then sometimes I'll go back to alto. In some ways tenor seems to be more forgiving on emboucher at least for me. A well set up tenor should not really require any more air than a well set up alto. The tenor is more massive as far as finger/hand spread and back pressure, but not that much worse at least to me. If I could only pick one.....I would go with tenor.
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    Forum Contributor 2011 Steve Stockham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    To specifically answer the OP's questions, the alto is smaller all around which means that you will have a smaller mouthpiece, smaller reeds and smaller distance between keys. I agree with SuperMadHatter in that the tenor seems more forgiving on emboucher. The alto's size seems to allow for easier quick fingering while the tenor's lower keying allows for a rich, mellow, sexy tone that the alto can only hint at! Still, as the others have said, it's really a personal decision as to which one suits you best. (Quite honestly, I prefer playing my King C-Tenor but that wasn't one of the options...)

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    Non Resident SOTW Eccentric & 2012 Forum Contributor Jazzaferri's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    As a sop and alto player now I can say with some certainty that the smaller the horn the more critical the embouchure gets insofar as intonation goes.

    I have a secret suspicion that many tenor players are closet alto players as they always seem to play in the upper register and altissimo
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    The Alto has always been a bit of the default beginner sax...although I think this is more due to the fact that they are the cheapest of all of the saxes, as opposed to the 'easiest'. There are more Altos produced than any other sax, so they are always plentiful...just peruse eFlay and you will see that.
    Could also be that, relatively speaking and at face value, as far as user-friendliness...they are the easiest to blow and produce a sound on; and the scale of the keys is pretty easy for a variety of hands to deal with....

    But as has been noted by other fine folks above, once you get really into it more, they are hardly the 'easiest'.

    As has been said, try both (hell, try a Baritone, too !) and see which one speaks to you the most. All are fun...with me, the "one" which was right was the one which literally moved me in the center of my body...it was that spiritual an experience...
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Let me be a little more specific. I developed tendonitis while playing guitar and I switched to sax partly because the way you don't have to bend the wrists so much, plus the ease of pressing down the pads, doesn't hurt my wrists as much. So i was wondering which would be more difficult to play for someone who can't strain his hands that much.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2012 dexdex's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    To answer your specific question regarding strained hands: I personally get tired faster on alto, although the horn is lighter. I suspect it is because tenor, do to it's size, falls more naturally under the hands. But I play ways more tenor, and probably have developed comfortable playing habits, more than on alto.
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    I started on alto for the reasons that Jaye gave, they are the cheapest and most common saxophones around. They are also often chosen by young folks ( I wasn’t young though) and ladies because of their relatively small size and weight and, certainly in the ’80 or ’90 because there was a lot of soft jazz around and many famous recording and performing artist did use alto ( in the Netherlands for example Candy Dulfer did enormously well in promoting saxophone playing in the ’90 and countless girls got into playing alto ALSO because of her). Having said this playing a given saxophone as opposed to playing another saxophone is not only a question of how high or low the pitch of the saxophone is.


    So one quickly realise that playing the soprano requires a rather different technique compared to baritone but also demands you to phrase and play differently and one, as I do, probably uses different parts of the saxophone to “ sing” on each horn.


    I now play soprano, alto (too little I am afraid) and tenor, with the occasional attempt to play baritone and an hint of flute and my most recently acquisition of a bass clarinet (we shall se how that fares!). They are all different and make you play differently.

    I just gave up trying to play sopranino.......for the time being!

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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2012 dexdex's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    I should add that I play mainly standing, or sitting on a bar stool (when shedding at home), and hold the horn straight in front of me, and not sideways à la Lester Young or the classic way. I'd probably have trouble in a big band, sitting on a normal chair...
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    different saxophones bring different experience.
    I started on alto and tried to play some tenor. I definitely "swing" the alto alot more than the tenor cause it is just lighter.
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    Non Resident SOTW Eccentric & 2012 Forum Contributor Jazzaferri's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    If you have wrist issues, try a number of different saxes and go for the one that puts your hands in the most relaxed naturaosition

    If you have small hands that will probably be alto of ou have bigger hands probably be tenor.
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Wow!.. there is another saxophone other than tenor? Who would have guessed?
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Quote Originally Posted by milandro View Post
    I just gave up trying to play sopranino.......for the time being!

    ...and for this your neighbors love you !!!!!


    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzaferri View Post
    ...go for the one that puts your hands in the most relaxed naturaosition.

    I like that word !!!!!!
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    Quote Originally Posted by dexdex View Post
    I personally get tired faster on alto, although the horn is lighter. I suspect it is because tenor, do to it's size, falls more naturally under the hands.

    This is a very good observation...because one might make the assumption that since X horn is smaller, the reaches are less and thus the stress on your hands is going to be diminished. But it is way more personal and individual than that.

    Indeedy, it can feel odd playing with your fingers and arms and such in what you feel is a 'compressed' position; as opposed to your more 'naturally' spread position. Which is why this advice is good...hold all of 'em and see which one feels the most natural. Regarding weight of the instrument, if held properly regardless of whether you stand or sit; whetehr you are predisposed to hold the horn to your side or directly in front of you...it is the neckstrap or harness which is the most load-bearing part of holding the horn...your hands and arms usually don't bear the weight of the instrument.....
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    My understanding from decades back was that alto was the best to start on (and hence the most common 'beginner' sax) because it was the most 'average' in terms of embouchure and so moving to other saxes would be easier if your basics were learned on alto. Whether this is precisely true or not I don't know.

    I do know that sax torques your wrists less than guitar (I also have some hand/wrist issues with guitar) BUT the right hand in particular on sax, especially on tenor can present problems if the right hand thumb hook is too low. So my advice, since hand comfort is your primary concern, is go ahead and start out on whichever sax type you prefer the sound of, but try an individual horn for a good bit of time, both seated and standing, before you buy it to make sure your hands are comfy (and pay particular attention to your right hand) before you buy it. If you already have a horn you love but the right hand feels uncomfortable, the good news is that the thumb hook can be moved by a tech relatively easily.
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    Default Re: Tenor vs. Alto

    I start kids on alto because they're smaller, and fit the young'uns better.

    Concerning the OT--Hand position on alto and tenor are not that much different. More of a concern would be what style of music you play most often. If it's blues or rock, I recommend tenor. If it's jazz, either is fine. If it's classical or you will be playing in a concert/community band, then alto.
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