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Difference between clarinet and sax altissimo


Senior Member
I don't know if there are many single-reed doublers here, but here goes.

I've had a clarinet borrowed from a friend for three weeks or so, and I've been playing with it for a bit, mostly when it's been too late to practice the sax. The fingerings and basic lip technique etc. are so similar that I've become a lot better at the clarinet just by playing the sax, and it's my hope the opposite will be true as well!

Today I tried getting out a few altissimo notes out of the clarinet, not really expecting to get anything, and I found that I could play the whole lower altissimo range (C#6-G6) - perhaps not hitting the notes spot on, but I could bend them to correct pitch and then hold them. I could also get something between G#6 and A6 (hard to tell, so out of tune!) from the upper altissimo, but nothing else.

I haven't managed to get a single altissimo note out of my sax - not that I've really tried much, as I suppose it's something best left for when I get the basic techniques right. The clarinet's lower altissimo, on the other hand, felt pretty much a natural progression from the second octave.

I'm just wondering, does the way the clarinet is built make it inherently easy to play in the altissimo range, or is a higher-pitched instrument generally easier to overblow? I.e. would an alto clarinet be more difficult? Will learning the clarinet altissimo help with the sax altissimo, or could it actually be harmful towards learning it on the sax?



Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
I personally think saxophone and clarinet as two completely different instruments. Altissimo on the clarinet is generally easier, but this is due to the fact that it is a cylindrical instead of conical.
Just make sure you are not biting; a common error among clarinet players moving to saxophone.

Altissimo on a bass clarinet is real fun: try this

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Well-Known Member
Jori's observation is a very interesting one, that I confess that I haven't thought much about before. From my limited understanding of acoustics, I know that the clarinet being a closed cylinder overblows only the odd numbered harmonics. The even numbered harmonics are present, but quite weak since they are not reinforced by the impedance of the tube.

When one opens the clarinet's register key, it overblows the 3rd harmonic which is a 12th (octave and a fifth) above the fundamental. When one raises the first finger of the left hand (or halfholes the first tonehole) it acts as a 2nd register key and helps to sound the 5th harmonic.

Take for example the fingering for low A XXX|XX0. When the thumb register key is added, it sounds A's 3rd harmonic which is an E a 12th higher. When the thumb register vent is kept open and the first finger is raised creating a 2nd register vent of sorts, it then sounds A's 5th harmonic which is a C# 2 octaves and a 3rd higher.

I suppose from this that one could deduce that the ability to open an additional register vent makes the clarinet "harmonics" easier to produce. The various cross fingerings on the saxophone that help to produce the harmonics on that conical instrument seem to be far more dependent upon the "voicing" done inside the mouth and throat of the player and therefore require more skill and practice. Anyway that is my best guess at this point.

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
I find the Bb clarinet a frustrating instrument. It sounds so pure. It's so easy to play but so hard to play well. Stupid twelfth jump. Finger patterns always changing to play the same phrase an octave up. Alto at the bottom, soprano up the top. Alternative fingerings for different scales. Feels like I'm playing a slide rule.

Apart from what has already been identified, I think it's easier to play up top because the reed is smaller.

I find it takes me a while to adjust to the alto after playing the clarinet. The Baritone is so different that it doesn't confuse lips or brain so I tend to blow the Bari for a bit then jump on the alto.

I don't think playing clarinet will hurt your sax playing. I think playing different but similar instruments helps to give each instrument its own personality of tone and emphasise to you what you're playing. Having to adapt your embouchure to each instrument makes you more aware that you need to adapt it while playing each one. If that makes sense.

Never blown a hot fountain pen. I think my brain would explode. Eb on a clarinet sheesh.

I've recently started with a soprano. A whole new can of worms.


Senior Member
Thanks for the replies, everyone.

I'm an engineer, so I always have to know why and how. :)

I read through the articles at, but couldn't really pinpoint why the sax is so difficult to overblow compared to the clarinet.

As for the clarinet sound itself, I really love the low octave even on the soprano, and the bass clarinet sounds wonderful throughout. The clarinet fingering is a bit more difficult, yes, but for me the fingering is not the difficult part, everything else is. :)

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