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Beginner Sax Alto versus Tenor

_Dan_

New Member
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14
I'm a complete saxophone novice. My experience is limited to 1 brief lesson (with an alto sax) and 1/2 hour or so trying a few altos and tenors in a shop a few months ago. My plan was to visit again to try to make a decision on a) alto or tenor and b) which instrument. As things stand I really can't chose between alto or tenor and without trying some more, it seems an impossible task. Picking a particular instrument will perhaps be easier and I'll likely plump for a 280 Yamaha of whichever type I decide on. Mainly as it seems a 'safe' bet and should have good resale value if/when I chose to upgrade (or give up). I did consider renting thinking I could try 6 months or one then 6 months of the other before deciding and buying. But that really just seems like I'd be wasting time I could use to get better at playing just one instrument - something that likely to be hard enough as it is!

The current situation has clearly made it impossible to try more out, but has also got me keener than ever to get an instrument so that I can start making more production use of more time spent at home.

My interests are very much jazz but not specially towards tenor or alto; I listen to, and love, lots of music featuring both. I'm also in my 40's and pretty tall and so the size differences - and weight too, I guess - shouldn't really matter.

I realise that in many ways this is a subjective thing but I thought I'd ask anyway… to see if it's possible to better understand the practical differences to see if that helps me chose…

What sort of differences are there between alto and tenor; is one (generally) considered easier to play/learn to play, for example.
I think I read somewhere that the tenor can be easier to play in tune (something which might be useful for me as I don't have a great ear!).

I'd love to hear any thoughts, tips or other information on the differences that might help me chose.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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Some people think alto is easier to play, others think tenor is easier.

I would advise you to reconsider renting a sax. Then in a few months, with any luck, you will be able to try out both sorts again and if you change your mind it is a lot cheaper.

But if you are determined to buy, then my advice would be to think about which one you think sounds nicer.
I don't know what sort of music you like, but if, for example, it's jazz, then listen to some alto players and some tenor players and decide which you prefer. Then get that sort.
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
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You might get a lot of suggestion and opinion, the one definite difference in which to buy is cost of the saxophone itself and accessories such as mouthpiece and reeds if that is of consideration.
 
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saxyjt

Saxus Circus Maximus
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I'd go for what feels better soundwise. I started on Alto but now I play mostly tenor as it feels more comfortable in my hands, but I also prefer it's lower sound. I'm a big fan of bari as well but it's rather heavy and cumbersome, so I tend to play the tenor more.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Start on whichever feels/sounds better. Stick to that for a year or two. Then think about the other. Most people can pick the other up pretty much seamlessly. Just sounds odd to get different notes out.
 

Saxlicker

Well-Known Member
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1,941
Welcome to the Cafe.
To quote a man somewhere over the pond who resides on another forum.....
"Tenor...it's all that matters".

OK I'm joking but Tenor is the king of Jazz.
Tenor and alto are the most versatile and easy to handle but over the years has always given me that bit extra everything and I started on alto with the same questions you have and I've tried Baritone and soprano too.
1) Tenor
2) Baritone (not so easy to handle as an Alto but very satisfying).
3) Alto
4) Soprano

And thats the law ;)

Enjoy choosing.
 

DavidUK

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,104
Started on Alto, no particular reason. Had a few tenors, and I do like the sound, but always feel they're a bit more cumbersome in comparison. If you went with Tenor I don't think you'd feel like this when switching to Alto, unless you thought it like a toy, as some do with curly Sopranos.

Alto is easier to carry around, and (if you get GAS, like me) to store.

Other than that, remember you can always have one of each and there are some good cheapies in either camp to "have a go" on. However, I'd say stick to one type for a while until your playing gets to a certain level. Take advice from your tutor on when. Oh... and speaking of tutors, you could find a local one now who has both and go along sax-less to see what they advise?
 

_Dan_

New Member
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14
"Oh... and speaking of tutors, you could find a local one now who has both and go along sax-less to see what they advise?"

The trouble with this approach (and indeed try-outs in shops) is that it just isn't possible at the moment. Sure, I could wait until all this 'lock-down' ends, but then I'd have miss out on all this extra spare time I have at the moment.

Perhaps the best bet for me just now is to rent one (I'm leaning towards tenor*) with an option to buy later. If I like it I'll buy. If not I could either give up or give the other option a try.

* I've a load of old C real and fake books which I bought years ago when learning piano. Part of me - perhaps naively - is thinking that I could use these more easily with a tenor than an alto on the basis that the 'just one whole tone' difference is easier to mentally process than it would be for an Eb instrument.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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I've a load of old C real and fake books which I bought years ago when learning piano. Part of me - perhaps naively - is thinking that I could use these more easily with a tenor than an alto on the basis that the 'just one whole tone' difference is easier to mentally process than it would be for an Eb instrument.

My advice would be to get a Real book for the instrument you choose. It's hard enough learning the sax anyway without adding the extra complication of trying to transpose as you play.
 

Phil

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I agree that you should pick the voice that speaks to you. If you are a healthy adult you have more than enough air for either. When I was first starting I began on alto simply because I picked one up on a whim. I quickly changed to tenor. I found tenor to have an easier embroschure. A good tenor will cost a bit more but otherwise I found it easier than alto.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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2,596
The alto, in Eb can be more difficult because of this, especially when playing along with others. The tenor (like the sop) is in Bb, the same as the clarinet and trumpet. The alto (and Bari) does not share the same key as any other mainstream jazz or pop instrument.

when you had a little try on alto and tenor, did either feel better?
 

_Dan_

New Member
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14
The alto, in Eb can be more difficult because of this, especially when playing along with others. The tenor (like the sop) is in Bb, the same as the clarinet and trumpet. The alto (and Bari) does not share the same key as any other mainstream jazz or pop instrument.

when you had a little try on alto and tenor, did either feel better?

Difficult to say… trying a tenor was very much an afterthought after trying altos for 20 minutes or so. It did seem as though the tenor sound was better than I'd made with the altos. But that could be down to having 'played' for 20 minutes first. But in the absence of anything else, perhaps I should take that as a sign and put a stop to my procrastinating!
 

randulo

Living the dream
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Welcome, Dan. I was going to post something but after reading all the above, I pretty much agree with everything said, including considering renting an instrument.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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1,993
I think 2 of the primary reasons the Alto is considered 'the starter sax' is because

1) they are cheaper

2) their scale is more manageable for young players.

Given you are an adult (I assume), 2) is moot. If your budget is not then severely limited, 1) also becomes moot.

Renting seems a good option.
 

Halfers

Finger Flapper
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2,275
Welcome to the Cafe. I can't help you with your choice, so all the best with that. It's interesting that you don't have even the slightest preference? Doesn't one of them whisper to you, just a little louder than the other? Take your time and listen a bit harder.. ;)
 

_Dan_

New Member
Messages
14
Welcome to the Cafe. I can't help you with your choice, so all the best with that. It's interesting that you don't have even the slightest preference? Doesn't one of them whisper to you, just a little louder than the other? Take your time and listen a bit harder.. ;)

Well if I had to pick only one artist to listen to it would be John Coltrane. On the basis that I'm limiting my choices to just alto and tenor and not soprano, tenor it is I guess.

That said, if someone has said 'tenor is much harder', I'd probably plump for alto. if there really isn't a lot in it, tenor it is. I think.
 

Ne0Wolf7

Member
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556
That said, if someone has said 'tenor is much harder', I'd probably plump for alto. if there really isn't a lot in it, tenor it is. I think.

The easier one will be the one you spend the most time with, which is why everyone is asking you which you think sounds better, so you'll be happier in the long run.
I played tenor throughout middle school and high school (I'm in college now), and think that one is easiest. In the quartet that I (ironically) play alto for, they all played alto in middle school and high school and consequently find that one much easier.
 

CliveMA

Member
Messages
694
I find Tenor easier to learn. The low notes are just so thrilling. Follow your heart.

What does an Alto want to be when it grows up? A Tenor. :)
 
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