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Saxophones Difference between tenor and alto

dave 645

Member
Messages
124
Hi All

I own an elkhart alto and enjoy playing a lot. I'm am also prone to spending loads on everything I do and having read the forum for a few weeks I am tempted to buy a tenor. In my (ignorant) mind a tenor is a bit bigger in size, a bit deeper in sound, but the same notes for all the same button presses.
My first question is this, what are the differences between a tenor and an alto? Please be as sincere or as funny as you choose

As a sax fan what album must I own?

Finally what was the first full song you learnt? Mine is Ob La Di.

Thanks for your time

Dave (but not a real Dave!)
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,302
Hi All

I own an elkhart alto and enjoy playing a lot. I'm am also prone to spending loads on everything I do and having read the forum for a few weeks I am tempted to buy a tenor. In my (ignorant) mind a tenor is a bit bigger in size, a bit deeper in sound, but the same notes for all the same button presses.
My first question is this, what are the differences between a tenor and an alto? Please be as sincere or as funny as you choose

As a sax fan what album must I own?

Finally what was the first full song you learnt? Mine is Ob La Di.

Thanks for your time

;)

Dave (but not a real Dave!)

Well aside from the size and that tenors are way better than altos...... :w00t: >:)

The, middle C is the same key on alto and tenor sax - in fact all keys play the same notes on all saxes BUT ..... they sound a different note as the saxophone is a transposing instrument. So Eb on alto and Bb on tenor sound the same as C on concert pitch instrument like a piano.

You'll probably find tenor a lot different to alto. It's quite a bit heavier, you can't play your old tunes in the original keys you learned - well you can but to sound the same you'll need to shift key, and in my own case, it took me quite a while to settle into a new more relaxed embouchure. I'm not trying to put you off and some cope well with switching between saxes - I didn't.

First album - probably Andy Sheppard's first album and first tune I learnt, I assume you mean learnt by heart........ that's a hard one. Probably something like Summertime or maybe the beginning to the theme from the Pink Panther or maybe a whole load of tunes/nursery rhymes I've known ever since I was a kid that I managed to play by ear on the sax quite early on.

Good luck with what you decide.
 
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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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21,947
Well aside from the size and that tenors are way better than altos...... :w00t: >:)

The, middle C is the same key on alto and tenor sax - in fact all keys play the same notes on all saxes BUT ..... they sound a different note as the saxophone is a transposing instrument. So Eb on alto and Bb on tenor sound the same as C on concert pitch instrument like a piano.

That's the wrong way round.... A written C on the stave/fingered on the instrument plays a concert Eb on the alto and a concert Bb on the tenor. And for completeness, middle C on the stave gives you the Eb below middle C in concert pitch on the alto, and Bb below that on the tenor (so that's the Bb 1 octave and one tone below concert middle C - a 9th down).

Conversely to get a concert C on the tenor you finger a written D, and on an alto written A on the stave/fingering an A gives you a C.


For me the differences between tenor and alto are linked not only to pitch, but also tone - the tenor is warmer, more rounded, huskier. It also tends to play just a touch slower as the fingers move more with the keys, and the springs are generally a touch heavier.

To play the tenor requires a looser embouchure and more air.
 

saxyman

Member
Messages
267
I too started by buying an Alto and then felt like trying a Tenor, went and got one, and I am hooked on it.
I love the sound of the Tenor, and strangely I find it easier to play, or perhaps it just the way I play or just the sound.
I was going to get rid of my Alto, but at the last minute I had second thoughts and decide to keep it.
I have lots of sheet music for Alto but I use a computer programme that allows me to rewrite it very quickly and it will also automatically transpose the key to what ever I want.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Hi There!

On the Alto/Tenor issue - most people start on Alto, and many who later decide to buy a Tenor seem to find their true calling. The Alto is, to my mind, a more specialised choice, which I would make every time, but is presented almost as a beginner's sax. Most people prefer one or the other, and more members of the forum seem to prefer Tenor to Alto. Jazz Album/CD choice is very hard many recommend "Kind of Blue". If you are interested in a more European choice I would recommend "Twelve Moons" by Jan Garbarek (or any other of the albums/CDs he has made.

Kind regards
Tom
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Thus Spake WyverThruster.......................:w00t:;}

Reality is that Tenors/Baritones are for Working Class Power lifters :w00t:>:), and Altos are for Middle Class Dudes:cool: Sometime culture/class can be confused with gender for no apparent reason........

Love to All
Tom:cool:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Funny, most of the sax learners at the music school are girls, and they've all got altos. Guess the tenors come later in their lives....

But Dave 645 has been conspicuously quiet since initiating this cauldron of vitriol.....
 

dave 645

Member
Messages
124
Just starting to enjoy the banter I initially sought. Incidentally I have my first lesson today, and my wife goes away for a week long course Saturday, she may well return to find a bigger horn than usual.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Funny, most of the sax learners at the music school are girls, and they've all got altos. Guess the tenors come later in their lives....

As far as I am aware (according to studies that I have read) Woodwind at schools is almost the sole preserve of girls, whereas Brass instruments split 60/40 in favour of boys. At least it seems to be the perception at this age that Woodwind as a whole is for girls (whether recorder, clarinet, flute or saxophone). In terms of the many school kids that I meet each day (through having 3 daughters - only one of whom has played a brass instrument) the sax is not thought of as particularly cool, especially when music taught at schools starts off as almost exclusively classical or of the "Tune a Day" variety.

There are other than classical grades available (ABRSM Jazz,Trinity/Guildhall, and London College of Music) but most kids are not made aware of this and have to progress in the classical domain, which seems a real shame.
On the other hand Rock School grades are available for budding guitarists/bassists - which has a very high male percentage, and is seen as "cool".

I assume, therefore, that many male sax players only develop an interest sometime after they have left secondary education - or entered the second half of life - usually after 40.

Kind regards
Tom:cool:
 
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saxnik

Member
Messages
381
I'm trying very hard to buck those trends, Tom - other books than 'tune a day' are available, and of course learning from manuscript isn't mandatory!
I'm proud to say that of the kids I teach on a regular basis, about half of the sax pupils are lads. The same isn't true of the clarinet...
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Good on yer.....! It would be good to see more effort expended in schools on developing an interest in music, especially by playing/teaching the sort of music that kids are actually interested in. Otherwise the sad creatures either end up giving up, or joining a Brass Band or Wind Band......:shocked:

Kind regards
Tom:cool:

I tried both trumpet and alto sax at school and gave up on both at an early stage.....
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Just starting to enjoy the banter I initially sought. Incidentally I have my first lesson today, and my wife goes away for a week long course Saturday, she may well return to find a bigger horn than usual.

Is this a case of "While the cat's away..." or "Abscence makes the heart grow fonder? ">:)
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
So will you "Get the Horn" while your wife is away..............;} Ooh er missus!:shocked:

It may be time that people were encouraged to decide between Tenor and Alto sax to start with, and that an Alto is not then presented as a beginner instrument. Especially amongst adult players/learners it would mean that people are less likely to buy an instrument that they may not need, as well as all the paraphernalia that has to accompany it. In Brass terms it is akin to starting someone on a trumpet that primarily wants to learn a trombone. They may have certain notes in common, but are different instruments fundamentally - even though saxes are more overtly similar.

The other choice of CD I would recommend if you want some more contemporary jazz - "Between The Lines" - Dave Stapleton Quintet. Very accessible at the same time as featuring a high degree of virtuosity.

Kind regards
Tom:cool:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Problem is that the tenor is too big for many kids.... But I agree with you, the alto is not meant as a beginners instrument, any more than the tenor is.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
I really meant for adults only as a tenor can be quite a weight - I should have been more explicit about it.........:ashamed

Kind regards
Tom:cool:
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Dave,
Don't listen to these wimps, start with a bass saxophone and a motor caravan.

Beethoven's original score of the fourth movement, Ninth Symphony, tenor sax part.
 

dave 645

Member
Messages
124
Dave

Mark my words. Old Git is right on the money. You too could look like this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_gEAKAqebw&feature=related
Funny that sounded great and it was recorded on my birthday. Maybe I can convince the wife it's a sign that my true calling is with the bass sax and not bother with the tenor.

Incidentally, in my first lesson yesterday, my teacher's first words upon hearing me were, "You're very loud" I thought I was supposed to be loud.
 

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