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Thread: Difference between alto, tenor, and soprano.

  1. #1

    Default Difference between alto, tenor, and soprano.

    I've just started out on sax a couple months ago and taught my self how to play. I originally played clarinet but wanted to expand the amount of instruments I play. The sax I started on was a tenor, I really enjoy the instrument making me interested in all saxes. But, I'm wanting to know the difference between alto, tenor, and soprano. I understand alto is an E flat instrument and the soprano and tenor are B flat but what that means I don't know 100%;I just have an idea. Could I pick up an alto or soprano and just start playing it? I have been told the fingerings are the same. But if I'm looking at music in E flat concert playin alto, and what I see to me as a C if it were in B flat concert (note in same spot on staff) would that still be a C fingered the same, or would it be fingered differently? And same with soprano...it is a B flat instrument, I should be able to pick it up and go right? But soon I'm wanting to find a soprano or alto and see how I like those also, but I will need to know the difference and its going to take to learn them, if needed. Thanks.

  2. #2

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    Saxophones are transposing instruments. When you finger a C on a soprano or tenor the actual note that sounds is a Bflat, with alto it's an Eflat. Music that says it is for tenor has already been transposed for you and if you are meant to sound a concert pitch C it will be written as a D for you to play. As a beginner you just have to get Bflat or Eflat music and play the notes you see keeping the same fingering for both.

  3. #3

    Default

    Saxophones are transposing instruments. When you finger a C on a soprano or tenor the actual note that sounds is a Bflat, with alto it's an Eflat. Music that says it is for tenor has already been transposed for you and if you are meant to sound a concert pitch C it will be written as a D for you to play. As a beginner you just have to get Bflat or Eflat music and play the notes you see keeping the same fingering for both.

  4. #4

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    So if I'm on alto reading E flat music everything is the same fingering. Like if its in the spot on the cleff that I read as a C, I will finger it the same second finger. So basically I can pick up any sax and play it. Is bari sax an E flat or B flat instrument?

  5. #5

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    bari is in Eb, and yeah, a C on an alto part is fingered the same as a C on a tenor part. transposing from concert pitch in Eb- everything is below a minor third, so a concert Bb would be a G in Eb and a concert C would be an A in Eb.

  6. #6
    Distinguished SOTW Member michaelbaird's Avatar
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    Isn't transposing fun

  7. #7

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    Since you had mentioned that you were a clarinet player, you should have heard of clarinets in other keys as well. The same logic goes for the Alto clarinet (Eb), Bass Clarinet (Bb), Sopranino (Eb) - these are the equivalent of those in the sax family.

  8. #8

    Default I'm a clarinet player learning sax too!

    I'm in a similar situation. Have played clarinet a LONG time and have tried to learn sax recently.

    I started with the soprano. In my research I learned that intonation is difficult on the soprano so I bought a soprano with an excellent reputatin for playing in tune (Yanagisawa S991, new). I read Paul Coats article on sop intonation and am trying to follow his instructions. I am finding that in spite of all of this, I am still having difficulty playing in tune consistently. Sometimes I pick it up and am in tune top to bottom, but most of the time, I struggle to play in tune with my group.

    I'm now thinking of getting a tenor because I understand that it doesn't have the inherent intonation problems as the soprano.

    In general, I believe that the tenor is easiest to get a good, in tune, sound from, the alto is a little harder and the soprano is the hardest.

    Mike

  9. #9
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    I have played alto since elementary (with a 27 year break after college) and since have picked up tenor and bari. On all three, intonation, although a constant challenge, is realitively easy to maintain. I bought a sop this year and found the intonation to be incrediably challenging.

    I suspect if I concentrated on this instrument and doubled the amount of time I practice every week, I could have a halfway decent sound in a couple of months. But that wouldn't benefit my first love the alto or any of the other instruments for that matter.

    If you really love the sop sound and can handle that there is less call for this instrument than the tenor, alto, and bari you might experiment with mouthpieces that would improve your sound. But the best bet is long tones and a decent mouthpiece.

    Here's hoping Dave Dolson, Paul Coats, or Tim Price take a minute from their busy schedules to give you other pointers.
    "I played the wrong, wrong notes." - Thelonious Monk
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    Quinn the Eskimo Vintage Horns ~ Woodwind Forums ~ The Bis Key Chronicles

  10. #10
    Distinguished SOTW Member michaelbaird's Avatar
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    I get better when I practice soprano. I find it the harder of the saxes to play and consistently sound good on. I find it hard to put down the tenor or the alto when I get them in my hands though. Probably why I don't play soprano better than I do.

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