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Beginner Does the key Matter for Alto or Tenor...

photoman

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...if all the notes are playable.

OK, daft question number 147 coming up. And I feel I should know the answer to this, but also feel I should ask.

I'm prompted to ask it since downloading two versions of the tune "Summertime" from an online school for Saxophone, I subscribe to. One version of the tune is in Bm (2 sharps) and marked "for Tenor Saxophone" the other version of the tune is in F# minor (3 sharps) and marked "for alto sax".

The tune is playable in Bm on the alto - although obviously it's higher in tone. It's easier for me, as the fingering of low C# (which is in the F# minor version) is still a bit unfamiliar to me.

Is there an reason why it would be written in the lower key for the alto, given that all the notes can be reached in the tenor version; and are there keys that are better suited for each instrument?

Stephen
 

kevgermany

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Lots of threads/topics around this. It's one of the first things we come across, and nothing to think of as dumb.

Basically the sax is a transposing instrument - in other words it plays a different note to the one written in the music.

Mostly they come in two pitches, Eb and Bb. Soprano, Tenor, Bass are in Bb, Sopranino, Alto, Baritone are in Eb. Each is an octave higher/lower than it's neighbour.

So if you want the sax to play at a specific pitch, which you usually do, you need a part arranged (transposed) for the key your sax is in. Generally the octave don't matter.

Where it helps is that you always play the same fingering for a specific written note. So written C is fingered the same on all saxes. But... Sounds different.

There are saxes pitched in C - these play the written note, but often an octave different. It's moot whether or not these are transposing instruments. Strictly speaking, as they play an octave or more out from concert ptich, they're transposing instruments. In reality, most peole don't treat them as such. Hardly anyone thinks of the guitar as a transposing instrument, but it plays an octave below the written pitch. Saxes in C are mostly the C soprano (which plays at concert pitch), and the C Melody, or C Tenor, which plays an octave below concert pitch. However these are not so common. Saxes in other pitches do occur, but are rather rare.

Do different keys suit different saxes? If you find playing in 7 sharps difficult (for me it's impossible), then yes.
 

photoman

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Lots of threads/topics around this. It's one of the first things we come across, and nothing to think of as dumb. Basically the sax is a transposing instrument - in other words it plays a different note to the one written in the music. Mostly they come in two pitches, Eb and Bb. Soprano, Tenor, Bass are in Bb, Sopranino, Alto, Baritone are in Eb. Each is an octave higher/lower than it's neighbour.

Thanks for the reply, Kev.

I played both Eb (soprano) and Bb cornets for many years in brass bands - and other formations. So, I'd be familar with the transposing instrument concept. What I was really asking here is does the saxophone "perfer" to be played at a certain pitch?

I was struggling to see why the same piece was written in 2 different keys when it could be played on both instruments in one of them. I'm not quite getting "it" yet. I'll think harder.
 
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kevgermany

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There'll be a common backing track in concert pitch. So different transpositions for the Eb and Bb saxes.

No different keys don't suit different pitched saxes for sound, but there can be an issue with the instrument's range.
 

photoman

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No different keys don't suit different pitched saxes for sound, but there can be an issue with the instrument's range.

And that was really the basis of my question, Kev. There was no issue with the instrument's range in this case, and I mentioned that as one of the puzzling factors in my question. So, it seemed odd that it should be offered in 2 keys specifically for one instrument or the other.

The backing track is the answer, I'm sure, so thank you for that!

The same "publisher" has developed an app, which I have, for recording over backing tracks, some of which are bundled with the app, and other which can be purchased (or you can upload your own.) I wrote and asked if the bundled backing tracks are for the tenor or the alto and the reply was "good question, the music will be written soon".

I feel like I should know what's going on - but sadly I don't! :confused:
 

Colin the Bear

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If you've played in brass bands you should be familiar with each instrument having it's own part.

The dots you've downloaded have a tenor part and an alto part. So they can play together or individualy with the same backing track.

The tenor plays Bb (2flats) when you finger C and the alto plays Eb(3flats) when you finger C, so the alto part will have one more sharp in the key signature to accomodate the one more flat in it's nature.

If you're playing solo, it doesn't matter what key a piece is in. It's only when we have to accomodate other musicians, live or recorded, that the key starts to matter.

When starting out, the middle of the range is easiest to make a pleasing sound. Say G to G, one sharp written. Which sounds F concert on the tenor and Bb concert on the alto This gives you an octave to busk any tunes in and you can extend up and down as your embouchure develops and you become more adventurous..

Some pieces sound better in certain keys and some pieces are easier to play in certain keys.

The saxophone itself has a different character in it's different ranges. This can be used to add tonal colour to a piece.



You may later discover why saxophonists fall out with guitarists over key signatures. Blues in E? I'll get me coat.
 

photoman

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If you've played in brass bands you should be familiar with each instrument having it's own part.

The dots you've downloaded have a tenor part and an alto part. So they can play together or individualy with the same backing track.

Well, to be honest, I was in my teens for most of that time so it's a rather hazy memory - but some of it came flooding back with your excellent explanation - thanks for that Colin.

So, from what you said, the backing tracks I mentioned will work for either instrument? I'm not sure why the app publisher didn't say that - but I'll try the Summertime track with both instruments.

You may later discover why saxophonists fall out with guitarists over key signatures. Blues in E? I'll get me coat.

I have absolutely no intention of playing in public ever again. I'll leave that to the boy of my youth - and the guy who sat with his bouzouki in Irish pub sessions until a few years ago.

For the present it's just me and the Saxes - and maybe a backing track or two. :thumb:


Thanks again.
 
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DHM

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You may later discover why saxophonists fall out with guitarists over key signatures.

I've played guitar for over four decades; when I took up the saxophone last year I was obliged to fall out with myself…
 

jbtsax

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Some tunes seem to "lay" better on one sax over the other. For example "Misty" written in the key of Eb "lays" better on the alto than it does on the tenor for me. By that I mean that the song stays in the tessitura of the alto that really sings. On the other hand, "Girl From Ipanema" "lays" better on tenor.
 

photoman

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Some tunes seem to "lay" better on one sax over the other. For example "Misty" written in the key of Eb "lays" better on the alto than it does on the tenor for me. By that I mean that the song stays in the tessitura of the alto that really sings. On the other hand, "Girl From Ipanema" "lays" better on tenor.

One question answered and one new word learned in one fell swoop. My new mission in lfe is to use "tessitura" in at least one sentence every week for next 3 months. :w00t:
 

Colin the Bear

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Of course you can play misty in Bb on the tenor but don't forget to tell the band what you're doing. It can get a little dissonant when you pick up the wrong sax.
 

jbtsax

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It sounds more like Mistkey doesn't it?
 

Tenor Viol

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I've played guitar for over four decades; when I took up the saxophone last year I was obliged to fall out with myself…
Well, it depends how much you enjoy keys with 7 sharps in them, or more....
 

Colin the Bear

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And they won't tune a semi tone flat for love nor money but a whole tone no problem. Err...that's not helping at all lol
 

Tenor Viol

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And they won't tune a semi tone flat for love nor money but a whole tone no problem. Err...that's not helping at all lol

Credit where it's due - knocks it down to a mere 5 sharps so B major / G# minor anyone?
 

saxyman

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If you are using the same online tutor as I think you are, then he is only too willing to offer advice.
I have Both Tenor and Alto so I use both versions this is so that the Alto or Tenor are in tune with the backing track,

If you think that you wanted to say accompany a pianist playing a particular tune, then if you play the same dots as him you would not be in tune. So you would need to play the transposed part for either Alto or Tenor whichever you are using.

t
And that was really the basis of my question, Kev. There was no issue with the instrument's range in this case, and I mentioned that as one of the puzzling factors in my question. So, it seemed odd that it should be offered in 2 keys specifically for one instrument or the other.

The backing track is the answer, I'm sure, so thank you for that!

The same "publisher" has developed an app, which I have, for recording over backing tracks, some of which are bundled with the app, and other which can be purchased (or you can upload your own.) I wrote and asked if the bundled backing tracks are for the tenor or the alto and the reply was "good question, the music will be written soon".

I feel like I should know what's going on - but sadly I don't! :confused:
 

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