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Beginner When is the right time to tackle a saxophone of another size?

Andante cantabile

Well-Known Member
Most people starting to learn the saxophone will sooner or later acquire another instrument in the saxophone range. The virtually identical fingering on all saxophones and the music written in the same way mean that changing from saxophone to another is a relatively simple affair. But is it really? And when should the learner start to play another saxophone?

Something may be gleaned from the music syllabuses. The ABRSM has prescribed pieces in lists and A and B for either B flat or E flat saxophones. List C pieces may be played on any of the four common types, but the syllabus stresses that there is no advantage to be gained over other candidates in taking this option. The Australian Music Examination Board (AMEB) syllabus says that no combination of instruments may be used in grades 1 to 8. Above that, a combination of instruments is possible. It seems that music educators see merit in a player getting good at one instrument before they diversify.

Like most beginners I began with an alto. I then traded up and got a tenor. That transition was quite smooth, but there wasn’t all that much to go wrong in the first place. Things fell apart when I got the baritone. Whatever progress I had made on the tenor seemed to evaporate, and the baritone didn’t go well either. In the end I overcame the problem with a long and concentrated program of practice. I now feel happy with both of them. I can’t help feeling though that the difference between the two is greater that I imagined. In case you’re wondering, they are both Yamahas.

Are there any views on the right time to take up another sax? I know that the temptation to do so is great, much greater than it would be, I imagine, in the case of a budding violinist collecting violas and cellos also.
Strings like those aren't interchangeable and players rarely do so, especially by comparison to sax players.

The scale is different so the intervals between positions is too, and the music is always written in the theoretically correct clef, while even Bari sax music is usually written in treble clef.

My own experience with switching so far is just having a go on a Bari, normally on alto. I found it simple enough, had to slacken embouchure considerably and blow through more, but still a pleasing experience to try one!
I'm no expert, as you know. But i'd say do it once you're cofotable with your current instrument, AND have a strong desire to do it.

As for the scales on stings, true, but the kids do it all the time - start off on a small instument (say 1/4 size), then as they grow, keep switching to another larger one. Have seen my daughter do it with the cello. Each transition is painful, but they soon get used to the new scale. At the moment she plays a 3/4 cello at home and at the music school, but at school she plays a full size one. So she's playing two different size cellos, sometimes both in one day. Much like woodwind players switch between sax and clarinet and flute, despite the fingering and blowing differences.
From my own experience I would suggest you need enough stability, particularly around your embouchure before starting to play a second sax. I moved from alto (after 14 months or so) to tenor in November 2008 and then in June/July of 2009 acquired a soprano sax.

I did struggle for a couple of months moving to tenor but things were improving. All the sop did was screw up my embouchure completely! The sop requires a tighter embouchure and has a tiny mouthpiece in comparison to the tenor and playing both was giving me problems. My teacher suggested I stop playing the sop for a while so I put it away and I've not played it since the autumn last year. I would hope my tenor chops are pretty good and stable by now so maybe it's the right time to try again.

Of course this is just my experience and others may be different.
There are two issues here - one is playing the different horns and the other is having a collection of music (whether in your head or on paper) in two or more different keys.
I haven't found it too hard to play alto and tenor but trying to keep a collection of music in both keys and remembering the chords progressions at least, if not the music itself, is really a challenge. I had been playing mostly alto but fell into playing tenor when I joined an orchestra a year or so ago. I kept telling myself all the time that I was actually an alto player but just playing tenor for the orchestra. But then about six months ago I decided to focus on the tenor and have found that my playing has improved as has my musically intellect - i.e I just think a tone out now instead of a tone or a minor third.
I play also in a function band and now almost always play tenor but there is the occasional song (I Got You - I Feel Good) when I think the switch over to an alto is justified.
I get to play in the two bands and the practise about 30 minutes per day 5 days a week - that is all my life style with allow. But if I have more time then maybe I could do justice to two horns.

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