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Thread: alto or tenor on gigs???

  1. #1

    Default alto or tenor on gigs???

    I am going into my second year in college as a music education major. I have always been an alto player, but this past semester I played both some tenor and alto in the jazz combo. This was like the first time i actually used my tenor. I started listening to more tenor and really like it, but i still love alto. I cant seem to decide which i like better.
    Anyways, when i gig i have all my tunes pretty much memorized on alto so i dont need to use much of the real book, but its hard to play them on tenor because i dont have the songs memorized for tenor. (I wish alto and tenor were the same key) And i find that switching between alto and tenor frequently on a gig hurts my embouchures on both horns. Should i continue being primarily an alto player on gigs or learn the tunes on tenor and gig on tenor? What does everyone else do?

  2. #2
    The most prolific Distinguished SOTW poster, Forum Contributor 2014 gary's Avatar
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    Feb 2003
    in exile from Germany - now in Texas


    Play what you want. I don't understand the dilemma. If you are starting to prefer tenor then start learning tunes on it. If you don't want to learn all those tunes, then stick with the alto, because obviously you are not committed to playing tenor.

    You asked what the rest of us do. If I am playing only jazz (as your post suggests you are doing) then I usually only take my tenor. The disco/soul/funk band I play in (most of my playing BTW), I play both.

    In the past, when I was playing lead alto in a big band, if I had some jazz combo playing to do, I took my alto.
    You can't blow it if you haven't lived it.

    TK Melody UL soprano
    Selmer S80 Serie II alto
    Julius Keilwerth SX90R tenor

  3. #3


    Tenor is pretty easy to transpose for from a C real book. Shouldn't be a problem. Gary's choice of saxes is logical too. You can switch between alto and bari if you want to stay in the same key.

    This appears to be pretty popular here, so here's a link to it:

  4. #4
    Forum Contributor 2014 Sidepipes's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    Portola Valley, CA -- SF Bay Area


    I'm with Gary. I get more combo gigs for tenor, especially if a trumpet is the other horn. Lead alto in a big band is great, but there aren't nearly as many chances as for the tenor in a smaller group. Of course, for a combo gig I usually take "the whole music store" along.

    "Lets Play!"

  5. #5
    DD's Avatar
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    Feb 2003
    Oil City PA


    I agree with Sidepipes on this one. Usually on combo gigs, I am requested to bring SATB plus Flute and Clarinet. Space and general security is always a consideration, however. Makes my conversion van a practical vehicle, too!

  6. #6
    Distinguished SOTW Member
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    Syracuse, NY


    Jazz aside for a moment - the tenor is much more in demand in the horn band/wedding circuit (which is the bread and butter of my playing income) however; I do get calls for alto -especially big band stuff but 2 or 3 times per year as opposed to 25 to 30 weddings.

    So if you want to work - get the tenor thing going. Otherwise play what you want. I spend most of my time of soprano - just because.
    Last edited by A Greene; 05-31-2006 at 11:12 PM.

  7. #7
    Distinguished SOTW Member bfoster64's Avatar
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    Portland, Oregon


    After years on alto I am now doubling on tenor and I think it is beneficial to learn every tune on both horns. After you do it a few times it gets easier and easier.

  8. #8
    Distinguished SOTW Member HeavyWeather77's Avatar
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    May 2004
    Brooklyn, NY (sometimes Austin, TX)


    Quote Originally Posted by jentone
    So if you want to work - get the tenor thing going. Otherwise play what you what.
    I think this is right on. I love alto and tenor equally, but let's face it, THE saxophone has been the tenor since about 1960. In commercial situations, people usually want a tenor; most of my friends consider me an alto player, but I make my living playing tenor, and I love it. Also, I find that learning how to get a good tenor sound dramatically helps your alto sound: it lets you open up, stop biting, use more air, improve your tongue position, etc. It works the other way too, for different stuff.

    Artisitically, though, I think there's a lot of unexplored ground on the alto. Since Coltrane, it seems like most of the great strides in saxophone playing (and much of jazz) have been made by tenor players: Trane, Wayne, Brecker, Branford, Potter (who started as an alto player and of course plays all the horns like a beast), Mark Turner, Joshua Redman, etc. There have been a couple alto players like Kenny Garrett and Dave Sanborn that have been significant on that level, but I think the alto has tons of unrealized potential as a voice in modern music. Some younger people in New York are really starting to represent on the alto: Jaleel Shaw, Patrick Cornelius, and Rob Wilkerson to name a few.

    Of course, this is all very debatable. I'm curious to hear what other people think about alto vs. tenor in creative music of the last half-century. These are just my observations.

  9. #9
    RCNELSON's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
    Suburban Cleveland,OH


    I play both alto and tenor as well as some flute in a contemporary Christian band. I let each song determine which one of the 3 I play. As far as embouchure issues are concerned, it takes work (aka practice time) not to let one sax dominate or affect the other. I'll save the affects on the flute embouchure for another thread.

  10. #10
    Distinguished SOTW Member jaysne's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    Western Massachusetts


    Generally speaking, most combos prefer a tenor sax to alto.

  11. #11


    Learn every song in every key, you shouldnt have a problem after that.

    but really, you cant learn the songs on tenor if you dont play it. it would make you a better all-around sax player too, as it would force you to learn the songs in atleast one more key
    Tenor: 1972 Mark VI (Recently overhauled)
    1980's Otto Link STM 7*
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    "Life isn't about finding our limitations, it's about finding our infinty" Herbie Hancock

  12. #12

    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    fly over land,Minnesota


    i myself have both prefer my self i prefer alto..my brothers[also sax players]
    and we all play in same bands...lol will switch off an on ..anyway learn both an go with the flow..
    Life is like a bicycle..stop pedaling an you fall off
    2 super 20 alto
    1 super20 tenor
    1 martin tenor
    1 chu berri naked lady alto
    1 chu top hat alto
    1 L.A. sax alto
    1 sml alto
    1 martin alto
    1 martin bass

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