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Really comfortable with tenor, alto feels uncomfortable.

ellinas

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,067
Location
Athens, Greece
Hello there

I would like to share my thoughts on doubling tenor w/ alto.

I play almost for a year+ on tenor sax and my results are impressive.
having a 20 years jazz background in jazz piano and guitar really helped skip many obstacles a typical sax beginner has to overcome, and i was able to build basic technique in record time.

At this point I can play easily major minor pentatonic maj/min whole tone diminshed etc scales in all keys, I feel comfortable playing most jazz standards from real books and I can easily improvise using my ideas that i have developed through the years studying piano.

My tone in tenor is not pro but using a V5 t35 mpc I gigged with bands doing jazz tracks and i could get from decent subtone getz sound up to screaming altissimo, and noone believed im a beginner.

Nothing seemed difficult in tenor sax so far. With persistance and smart studying I really feel proud for what i ve achieved. Im somewhere at the intermediate level.

I have 2 tenorsaxes. A yts 32 that is really free blowing and got me started really easy, and a french beaugnier duke that is a little more difficult lowing but it delivers a slightly fatter retro sound which i love. On both isound similar and OK.

My "success story" ends when i play the alto. Any alto. ive tried many. My tone is weak. To my ears whatever i do sounds much worse than the tenor. My tone has no character, no variance and i cant fix it. At first i thought it was my sax, a beaugnier duke alto, but it isnt. My tech and friends find it superb and they sound great with it. Tried a yamaha, a jupiter a selmer, the same crappy sound on all of them.

I changed 4 mpcs, reeds and no matter what I do the beginners mediocre tone is always there. I sound like a person that plays for one month or less hahahaha. My intonation also is weak. On tenor im spot on. On altos i scoop until i reach the correct pitch on high notes. The difference is amazing.

So far I discussed this with fellow saxophone players and they have told me 2 things.

1) some people just sound,like and play better certain types of saxes and avoid doubling. And that its perfectly ok
2) others told me to wait for some time and to persist in embouchoure exercises ( long tones & oooh iiiiii mouth shapes etc ) and over time I will se improvement. They said that my embouchoure is developed for tenor but not ready for the alto. And they say that it has a lot of difference on tenor , its much more relaxed.

None of them ever had the problem i have though. They all told me that they gradually improved their tone on each sax type. They also mentioned that on soprano it can be difficult in the beginning but alto shouldn't feel that hard at all.

Most of them find the tenor the less comfortable sax. And they all started on alto

sometimes i think about quitting the idea of trying to be good in playing the alto. Maybe its not my thing. It spoils all the fun I get from sax playing.
Should I focus on tenor? or to try again after a year or so and see how it goes?

What are your opinions-suggestions?
thank you in avance.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Café Supporter
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Just north of Munich
Took me a long time to get the sound I wanted on alto. Was a combination of a large chamber mouthpiece and really consciously opening my throat, much more than I do on tenor. Same goes for Sop.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,215
Location
Skabertawe, South Wales
What mouthpieces/reeds/ligatures do you use on alto? Generally the larger the sax the less problematic is the intonation/margin for error soundwise. I mainly play alto but play tenor fine, albeit with a looser embouchure. Alto is more likely to sound worse than a tenor, all things being equal, and lots of folks who start on alto (just cos they do - a pointless hang over from days when people started playing as schoolchildren and a Tenor was too heavy for many of the little blighters) do sound better when they turn to play a tenor. I think that a good alto embouchure is harder to develop than a tenor embouchure - tightening an embouchure is harder than loosening one, in my experience, and if your tone is weak then this is one of the likely causes, as is playing reeds which are too hard or too soft, as is playing a poor quality mouthpiece or with the wrong tip opening. So, some detail may be useful in order to narrow down the problem. It may also be a good thing, where possible, to devote yourself to several onths of just playing the alto so that you can get a direct sense of what a good tone actually sounds like, and build a tighter embouchure as is often required to get a good sound out of an alto sax.
 

Andrew Sanders

Northern Commissioner for Caslm
Messages
2,770
Location
Ilkley West Yorkshire
It's so easy to sound weak on the alto. I started on alto over thirty years ago. Returned to the sax later in life but played tenor for twelve years. I have recently revisted the alto and can't believe how temperamental it can be.

With the tenor I just slap a reed on and go. The Alto is a different beast.
It's so important to get the angle of the mouthpiece right. Too low and it changes the sound drastically, weedy and unpleasant. Also you need a plenty of diaphragm support to sustain the tone otherwise it just dies on you. I agree with Kev(germany) open your throat, support your airstream and work hard!

Having said all that I'm loving the sound of the alto and feel like I'm cheating on the tenor which is supposed to be my main sax.

Keep on with it and I'm sure all will fit together.

I also found it invaluable to come to sax playing after studying jazz guitar. At least chord progressions don't freak me out.

Andrew
 

ellinas

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,067
Location
Athens, Greece
What mouthpieces/reeds/ligatures do you use on alto? Generally the larger the sax the less problematic is the intonation/margin for error soundwise. I mainly play alto but play tenor fine, albeit with a looser embouchure. Alto is more likely to sound worse than a tenor, all things being equal, and lots of folks who start on alto (just cos they do - a pointless hang over from days when people started playing as schoolchildren and a Tenor was too heavy for many of the little blighters) do sound better when they turn to play a tenor. I think that a good alto embouchure is harder to develop than a tenor embouchure - tightening an embouchure is harder than loosening one, in my experience, and if your tone is weak then this is one of the likely causes, as is playing reeds which are too hard or too soft, as is playing a poor quality mouthpiece or with the wrong tip opening. So, some detail may be useful in order to narrow down the problem. It may also be a good thing, where possible, to devote yourself to several onths of just playing the alto so that you can get a direct sense of what a good tone actually sounds like, and build a tighter embouchure as is often required to get a good sound out of an alto sax.

Thank you both for your answers. I really appreciate this!

Tom I've tried almost combinations of the following:
Mpcs : Yamaha 4c, Buescher True Tone, Rico B3, Vintage Meyer 5M
Ligatures : Vandoren Optimum, Yamaha strd, BG Flexi
Reeds : Rico Jazz Select 2.5 ,Vandoren 2 , 2.5

At the tenor sax, I sound good with any decent Mpc, Reed etc. Of course each one has a sonic identity some are buzzy others are warm others bright etc, but forming my embouchure I can "bark" with a classical mpc like my Vandoren or sound pretty soft with a metal otto link if I want. It's to a great extend really possible to get the sound that I have in my head no matter if a mouthpiece has a certain "colour".

On alto I sound like being neighbour's worst nightmare who is drunk hopeless and hates himself and music :)
I don't have dynamics. My low notes sound decent only if there's really strong air support. And I feel that I bite, and take too much mouthpiece in my mouth to hear a note clear.

I keep the suggestion that I must spend some serious time on alto and be patient.
I should treat it like an other instrument.
It seems the tenor is a hell lot easier than the alto.
And maybe it's a wise recommendation for beginners to start on the alto after all.

I wouldn't like to imagine me trying a soprano !!!!! hahahaha
I've played bari 2 months ago and I was decent. And of course no intonation problems. And it was a really crappy chinese cheap one.

Any recommendations on a mouthpiece that has a geometry closer to those of a tenor?
I suspect that one problem might be that all the mouthpieces I tried are close tip ones.
One cheap way to experiment is to take a cheap Rico x7. They are neutral cheap mouthpieces and for 12 euros I could get the answer I want if tip opening is an issue. I propably wouldn't keep them as my regular mouthpiece but Ricos (including the metallites) helped me understand lots of things in my tenor mouthpiece sound quest.

Thanks for your time again again folks. :thumb:

Cheers from really really warm Athens.
 

ellinas

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,067
Location
Athens, Greece
At least chord progressions don't freak me out.

Being multiinstrumentalist though is a great advance Andrew.
And in music, very big part of the knowledge is reusable!
I remember studying Charlie Parker in concert pitch to understand Bebop for piano/guitar.
Not matter how much theory books or "bebop exercises" I tried, the only way was to imitate the feeling of the great woodwind and brass players of the era. Now in sax 70% of the receipe is there! I remember the notation by heart!
Transcribing to tenor is easy. I'm fast at transcribing on the fly because of the years spent in other instruments.
Having to combine scales with chords also in jazz guitar/piano at a great speed, makes really easy to create a single note at a time melodic line for saxophone in my opinion.
The obstacle in sax is technique. Guitar needs technique too. Piano also.
Without proper fingering, correct articulation and nice embouchoure the saxophone can't sound decent.
And some times the fingers won't do the right thing, the reed will squeak and the tongue will miss the right spot. hahaha
Dymanics in piano or non-weighted keyboards are so easy....
And some jazz guitarists can hide their small technique issues behind the tone knob level . hahhahaha.

The sax is not forgiving. Its power is RAW. That's why I am a convert :)

Thank you for your help!
 

wol916

New Member
Messages
125
I'm the other way Alto feels right Tenor just wrong and unnatural and too heavy. So as I only play for my own amusement and have no intention of joining a band etc I made the decision this week to sell the Tenor and try to be good on one instrument rather than mediocre on a few. If I told the truth the clarinet feels the most natural but that was my first instrument as a child so it's like going home as it were maybe that's why the Alto works for me similar size mouthpiece? I would think if it's what you want then stick with it, the fingers, mouth, brain etc will adapt given time, your rapid success on the Tenor may be giving you unrealistic expectations.>:)
After all the harder you have to work for something the better feels when you get there.;}
 

Bobby G

Senior Member
Messages
4,992
Location
Wonderful Welwyn Garden City, Herts
I don't know if this will help, but it works for me - I tend to use a combination of a wider tip opening and softer reed rather than narrow tip/hard reed. I dunno, it just works for me, although it did take some time to get a sound I was happy with throughout the range. This is alto that I'm talking about - I played almost nothing but alto for about 7 years but in the last year I've moved to almost exclusively tenor, which again took a bit of work on getting a better sound especially in the upper register.

These days I much prefer the sound and feel of playing tenor, I can relax a lot more as the embouchure is looser than alto, and I like the stance you adopt on tenor, there's something just satisfying about the whole experience. I feel I can really kind of dig in on the tenor, whereas with alto I'm kind of flying over everything else, if that makes sense.

I haven't had any real intonation issues, even on soprano (which I only play rarely), I think it's a matter of developing the muscle memory so you don't have to think about it.

If you've only been playing a relatively short time, it might be an idea to put the alto aside for a while and concentrate on the tenor, the chances are some way down the line you'll feel the need to return to the alto, and it's surprising how a break from an instrument can make you start really enjoying it when you pick it up again. When I first started playing, I got a bit disheartened after a few months and didn't play any sax at all for about three or four months, and when I went back to it something had definitely clicked into place in my mind and my progress suddenly became a lot faster.

Warning! I can only speak from personal experience, as I am entirely self-taught and came to saxophones after playing guitar and bass for over 30 years, so I may not be doing anything 'correctly', although it sounds right to me :)
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,215
Location
Skabertawe, South Wales
A larger tip opening is well worth trying - around 0.080" will be large enough and also some softer reeds - Marca Jazz 2 or 2.5's Also make sure you do not overtighten your ligature - can make a big difference to sound. The Rico idea is good but a B5 at 0.080"should be big enough, though I do not think they produce that good a tone and do have some resistance. A Runyon 22 is also quite cheap - size 6/7 would be worth a go. When I started playing tenor I found that an alto sized mouthpiece was a good starter piece, but am happy with ordinary sized HR Tenor mpc's now.
 

MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
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The Malverns, Worcs
Have you tried recording yourself and listening back to it later.
I had the opposite problem to you -I felt really comfortable with my alto and dreadful with my tenor.
I felt it was out of tune (but the tuner says it's perfectly in tune), I felt the tenor was sort of "honky" where as the alto was mellow and tuneful.

Then I recorded my tenor playing and played it back to myself later.

I have realised that the problem is not in my ability to play my tenor, but in my ability to hear myself.
I believe that my ears have got used to how an alto should sound, and my ears could not cope with how a tenor should sound - remember they are different pitched instruments - Eb vs Bb. Finally, after a year of tenor practice, I feel my tenor playing now sounds good; but I believe that my ears have got more accustomed to the Bb pitch, rather than I have got any better at playing the tenor!
 

Jamesmac

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,872
IMO. The problem you have is not that the the pitch of the Bb tenor or Eb Alto is something that you need to get used to, {that is complete rubbish} its about control of the instrument you are playing. The problem for sax playing in general is the expectation, you may have been been happy with your Tenor playing, but that in no way makes you a Tenor player. Like an athelete you need to develop your chops, which seems to be your main problem.Sometimes its possible to make a kind of music with a tenor, similar to a guitar guy, who can only play three chords, its the nature of the the instrument. The reason you have trouble with Alto is that it highlights your Sax limitations. There is no magic bullet. I sugest you practice your Alto more and you will find like magic, your Tenor playing is better. Sorry to be blunt but thats life.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Café Supporter
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21,912
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Just north of Munich
I sugest you practice your Alto more and you will find like magic, your Tenor playing is better. Sorry to be blunt but thats life.

I found this as well. Even more when I started with the soprano. I also found I hated the core sound of most of the normally recommended alto mouthpieces. Too thin and squawky, especially Meyer based designs. But I'm not an advocate of switching mouthpieces too much. The Yamaha 4C and Rico B3 can both sound rich/warm and mellow. Depends on the player. ymmv.


But - it sounds like you've made incredible progress
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
14,073
Location
Burnley bb9 9dn
Welcome to the frustrating world of the saxophone.

Firstly let me say that knowing you sound bad is more than half the problem. Your experience in the music field will be a help and a hinderance with the saxophone. Your experience of the tenor saxophone has given you an expectation of success on the alto.

All the saxophones are very different.

It's very easy to sound OK on tenor, even more so on baritone.

The alto however demands more of the embouchure. It's a very different technique with more control and less air needed. Ascending the pitch range of the saxophone more issues are exposed. The soprano is notoriously difficult to pitch and control.

I started on clarinet which I feel has a closer relationship, sound production wise, to the alto. Perhaps an excursion into clarinet playing may help.

It can take a lifetime to master an instrument. There's no rush. If you truly want to become a saxophonist, you will.


Persistence and patience will produce progress. There are no shortcuts or magic secret formulae.
 

baritonesax

Member
Messages
256
Location
Twickenham
I agree with suggestion to go for a bigger mouthpiece. To me a weak tone on one sax when you play with a more solid tone on another probably means that you haven't got enough resistance on your alto setup. Go for a Meyer 7 or similar.

Also, practise overtones apart from just regular long tone stuff.

Sent from my KFTT using Tapatalk 2
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,215
Location
Skabertawe, South Wales
Welcome to the frustrating world of the saxophone.

Firstly let me say that knowing you sound bad is more than half the problem. Your experience in the music field will be a help and a hinderance with the saxophone. Your experience of the tenor saxophone has given you an expectation of success on the alto.

All the saxophones are very different.

It's very easy to sound OK on tenor, even more so on baritone.

The alto however demands more of the embouchure. It's a very different technique with more control and less air needed. Ascending the pitch range of the saxophone more issues are exposed. The soprano is notoriously difficult to pitch and control.

I started on clarinet which I feel has a closer relationship, sound production wise, to the alto. Perhaps an excursion into clarinet playing may help.

It can take a lifetime to master an instrument. There's no rush. If you truly want to become a saxophonist, you will.


Persistence and patience will produce progress. There are no shortcuts or magic secret formulae.

If you want great music, follow the Bear.......:shocked::w00t:;}
 

Saxdiva

Older, wiser, should know better....
Messages
533
Location
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
I started playing about 7 months ago - on alto. I was lucky to achieve a good tone quickly and felt really comfortable. Then I bought a tenor. I couldn't get anything out of it for a few days then I got the hang of the different embouchure and I couldn't put it down. Everything was so much easier, even though the alto seemed good before. Suddenly the alto was hard - a combination of less practice and the ease of the tenor to control.

At one point I had a sop. It was surprisingly easy to play and play in tune. It made the alto even less appealing.

I realised if I had a hope of playing well I had to give them each the same amount of time I would give to one. Given that I have had to start theory almost from scratch so had to devote time to that, there weren't enough hours in the day so I decided to part with the sop. I practice on both alto and tenor every day now (for about 45 mins to an hour each) and if I haven't got time I just concentrate on alto. I think it's easier to put the tenor down for a period of time and to relax the embouchure than to lose the firmer one needed for the alto. Personally I find I do better in terms of switching if I play a free-blowing mouthpiece on the alto.

If you want to play both equally well you just need to persevere and know it will take more time. Lots of things are transferable but they are two completely different instruments to play.

Keep going - it will feel great when it comes together. :)
 

Jamesmac

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,872
I think it would be a good idea for you to compare your tenor playing to a recording, using a transcription, and a good way to see how you are progressing, { sometimes we think we are better players, than we really are} ;}I think you will see the same basic problems you are having with Alto on Tenor also.
This is a you tube video of a not too technically demanding piece for tenor, { but you will need to control the Sax} played by Dennis Solee, from his Sinatra on Sax CD.
The transcription is available at Saxsolos.com and will only cost you 2USD :)


http://youtu.be/bvJ_BwfHkVw
 

ellinas

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,067
Location
Athens, Greece
Thanks everyone for the great advice.

I'll buy a new wide tip mp on monday and I will try more intesively to work on my tone on the alto.
The recording suggestion gave me an idea.

I will record every end of the month,in both saxophone types, the Nature boy tune from ike quebec which is quite an intermediate tune but truly demanding tune in terms of articulation and expressiveness. It's my warm up standard. It's the tune I play when I test a new sax at stores etc. I have played it a lot and I'm really really confident with it.

To keep things fair I won't transpose it on alto.

I've always wanted to spend some time testing my microphones in recording the sax. So it will be a 2 in 1 project.

I'm curious to see how my efforts on alto will affect my tenor playing until the end of the year :).

Thank you all for being wonderful with me and sharing your opinions! I was really worried before this post, now I'm really motivated for hard work :).

--- Going back to my cave - for my typical klose workout :) --- Poor neighbour! hahahah

:thumb:
 

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