Sax on the Web Forum Archive / Alto Saxophone / Alto V.S. Tenor

Mike
User ID: 1920144
Aug 31st 11:13 PM
It's strange that I find the tenor to be much more lyrical and effortless at playing jazz. Most of my ideas 'work' on the tenor, but when translated to my alto, fails completely at communication the jazz vocabulary. Has anyone found this to be true in the reverse situation, that something that sounds good on the alto doesn't sound as well on the tenor, or doesn't work at all.
JI
User ID: 0512724
Sep 1st 12:11 AM
I started plaing tenor, but only when I tried the alto I really could go further. I have been told that the alto embochure is a little more demanding than the tenor one. I don't know that for sure, but some teachers said so.

You better play whatever fills your soul.

Best Regards,

JI.
Brian
User ID: 1934244
Sep 2nd 7:55 AM
I feel exactly like you do, Mike, only in reverse. It frustrates me and I try to force myself to play more tenor to overcome it. Funny thing is when I was on college (25 years ago) I felt exactly the opposite ... couldnt / didnt want to play alto for any reason. Now Im stuck the other way. Its not voicing, because I do love the Tenor .... but idea wise, I cant seem to translate as fluently.
winesax
User ID: 2282354
Sep 2nd 11:29 AM
Brian....Totally agree....Just can't get the ideas to flow on a Tenor as I can on the Alto.
mostly alto guy
User ID: 0122954
Sep 2nd 11:36 AM
This is an interesting line of discussion. I have similar thoughts about the alto/tenor thing, and other musicians do as well I suspect.

For example (maybe, not a very good one, but I'll toss it out there anyway), I love listening to Cecilia Bartoli, and I love "Nessun dorma." But I don't want to hear her sing that aria--it's a tenor aria!

I once heard a guy play the pic solo from "Stars and Stripes Forever" on tuba. Cute, novel, but ultimately not musically satisfying.

In my mind, I'm an alto player. I can play tenor, bari, even a little soprano in a pinch, but if I were writing for a sax ensemble, I'd give the best parts to the altos (usually), since that's MY voice. And if I were going to play any part in this group, it'd surely be lead alto.

If I had a good bass to honk around on, all bets would be off, at least for a while.

Anyone else engage in similar thinking?

Steve
User ID: 8026483
Sep 4th 12:12 PM
I am an alto player since 1966, but started playing tenor seriously a year ago. I can't put the tenor down! Still love alto though. I make different music on each. The alto I equate to a hot lady, kind of like Tina Turner in her day. The tenor I equate to a bold, passionate guy, kind of like a hero type. When I do the Richard Elliot thing, I feel like I'm really speaking to everybody in a language they can relate to. Both are very satisfying played within their respective dimensions. (Does that make any sense?)
Steve J.
User ID: 9510053
Sep 4th 1:53 PM
Steve, thats the most sensible thing said so far.
If your not as comfortable on a certain horn and you feel its important for you to be so, practice the weaker link. If its not of importance don't pursue a waste of time. Its about personal musical integrity.
There is no right or wrong.
Personally, If I need to play "The Girl from Ipanema" in traditional style I would think it a diservice to play it on alto. The tradition is Tenor, The Getz sound is synonomous with the tune. That thinking may well be very non innovative but it is my musical choice in the way I hear and respect that tune.
I wouldn't want to blow a Tenor solo on "Just the Way You Are". Phil Woods alto defines that song. Same difference. I realize many players would prefer to be different. This is me.
If the Music speaks to you as fitting with a different "voice" that may not be as comfortable, a personal decision needs to be made in regards to practice goals.
As I said its only a problem if you think it is and if you think it is fix it.
Brian
User ID: 1934244
Sep 4th 6:20 PM
Steve.... why ruin a good threads discussion with being so definitively sensible ..... so out of character... LOL (Just Kidding)

For all others .... thats my Bro.
Brian
User ID: 1934244
Sep 4th 6:28 PM
Steve J. I mean....
Steve J.
User ID: 9510053
Sep 4th 9:12 PM
Brian - I 'm going to have a change of name soon. Why are you revealing me? (Its fine) Frankly I am a relative nobody in the big world but I know a lot of somebodys. Frankly, This forum better start acting this sensible or some knowledgable people who everyone in saxophone needs to hear from will stop responding. Unfortunately too many already have. I'm starting to get emotionally involved. Honesty in threads I would hope would be a premium. The internet is the wave of the future. If the future is to gain from this technology people better think before they post and make sure it is a positive purpose. This forum could be an example of the most educational resources possible. If it draws the real pros who care they will know it will be more historical than Charlie Parker. Wrong thread for this, sorry but the reading of some of the rest of the threads is a bother.
Brian
User ID: 1934244
Sep 5th 6:40 AM
I agree completely ... and yes, it has happenned already. When a question is asked, or comment made, if someone cant answer without being ego driven ... or truly informative responses based on experience and/or knowledge .... its best just to listen.
cycleboy
User ID: 0247944
Sep 5th 6:49 AM
Started on alto but am now mostly a tenor player. Love 'em both...but can't say one works better for me than the other. Some days I seem to be "one" with my tenor, other days the ideas just flow out of the alto. And when it ain't working on either of them, I play the bari!!
Tsax
User ID: 2010474
Sep 5th 7:04 AM
Interesting discussion. I do find the alto and tenor very different. Tenor is my main horn, but I feel like two different people on them. The alto is more lyrical, seems to flow more fluently and maybe more directly (balladical, melodical). But the tenor really honks and riffs are easier, more natural, more an R&B kind of sound on the tenor (more staccato playing, more funk).
Why it is so different for me? I honestly do not know. I play way more tenor than alto, and maybe that is the reason. I have less muscle memory on alto, even though it is basically the same, my practicing of chords/scales etc. is done on tenor and not on alto. I think that is responsible for the difference, but maybe there is more to it.
Steve J.
User ID: 9510053
Sep 5th 9:26 AM
I think one should feel like two different people. Alto and tenor are two different sound pallettes to make music with. I imagine its like painting a picture in primarily blues and grays and another in primarily reds and whites. Same artist different colors used to express. One would paint differently.
If you cook a pasta dish vs. grilling a fish the acts are going to feel different. The level of artistry is up to your own desire. And one may not be as good as the other. You have to ask yourself how good a cook do I want to be. You may decide you prefer and would like to be a better fish griller. Thats very cool... But don't wonder why your pasta doesn't float your boat.
I think a less facile feeling on one horn is due to less time devoted to it. There's nothing more to it.
If you feel strong enough that the music within you would want to be expressed with a flute. Or maybe the double will get you more musical opportunity. An inner drive will get you to figure out flute right? One is a flute player when playing flute, a tenor player when playing tenor, an alto player when playing alto, a sculptor when making a snowman, a dancer when dancing.
As I said before,
If the Music speaks to you as fitting with a different "voice" that may not be as comfortable, a personal decision needs to be made in regards to practice goals.
As I said its only a problem if you think it is and if you think it is fix it. Its about the artistic pursuit. Its only natural that a horn is more comfortable when its played more often. IMO there is no wonderment or curiousity in that.
Steve J.
User ID: 9510053
Sep 5th 9:26 AM
I think one should feel like two different people. Alto and tenor are two different sound pallettes to make music with. I imagine its like painting a picture in primarily blues and grays and another in primarily reds and whites. Same artist different colors used to express. One would paint differently.
If you cook a pasta dish vs. grilling a fish the acts are going to feel different. The level of artistry is up to your own desire. And one may not be as good as the other. You have to ask yourself how good a cook do I want to be. You may decide you prefer and would like to be a better fish griller. Thats very cool... But don't wonder why your pasta doesn't float your boat.
I think a less facile feeling on one horn is due to less time devoted to it. There's nothing more to it.
If you feel strong enough that the music within you would want to be expressed with a flute. Or maybe the double will get you more musical opportunity. An inner drive will get you to figure out flute right? One is a flute player when playing flute, a tenor player when playing tenor, an alto player when playing alto, a sculptor when making a snowman, a dancer when dancing.
As I said before,
If the Music speaks to you as fitting with a different "voice" that may not be as comfortable, a personal decision needs to be made in regards to practice goals.
As I said its only a problem if you think it is and if you think it is fix it. Its about the artistic pursuit. Its only natural that a horn is more comfortable when its played more often. IMO there is no wonderment or curiousity in that.
Steve
User ID: 8026483
Sep 5th 12:24 PM
Both horns are awash in historical influence on jazz and pop. But there is still an entire universe to explore on each. If it can't be "said" on one, it probably can be on the other. They are that different in spite of all their similarities.

As much an alto player as I am, I am really wowed right now by tenor---it sounds so good at times I can't believe it's me blowin it. Can't wait to play again!
DanO
User ID: 8722703
Sep 5th 1:20 PM
The difference is definatly way cool!
My main axe of choice is the soprano however, I dig playing the tenor and alto too.

I seem to find it easier to improvise on alto. I still cant figure out why. That in turn however has helped both my tenor and sop lics. Go figure!
Now I need a bari..im suffering from a bad case of bootmans gas. Excuse me.
Bones
User ID: 0345364
Sep 5th 11:24 PM
I agree with a couple of things that Steve J said in his posts. Some songs are best on tenor, others on alto. I also agree that one should take on a different personality on a different horn.

During my early years, my practice sessions always included time on clarinet, tenor and alto. I always felt like I was coming home when I switched to alto. But, in later years I learned that I improvised better on tenor and soprano. I have always assumed that it's a key/pitch issue - that I'm more comfortable improvising on Bb horns. If true, that also surprises me because I've played more alto than anything and feel that my unique voice is on alto. I would think that my ears would be more comfortable on a Eb horn, but it doesn't seem to be that way. Of course others are equally good in all keys. I'm not.
JI
User ID: 0512724
Sep 8th 1:37 AM
Just play!
Leon Skyliner
User ID: 9579203
Sep 9th 5:55 PM
Guys - great post ...Here's my 2 cents..
I've played alto most of my life and for jazz I listen to prdominantly alto players (Phil Woods, Charlie Parker, Bud Shank, Lou Donaldon, Johnny Hodges, Canonball Adderly). These guys are so lyrical, the tone various from one to the other but the Alto sound is what I dig.

Then last year I happen to get my hands on a Buesher Aristocrat beat up Tenor which I playas often as the Alto.. My ears opened up. I still love alto but I find that I can "progress" or move forward musically much quicker with the Tenor. Now I'm listenening to Getz, Sims, Hawkins, Prez, Al Cohn. Coltrane, Rollins. I heard these guys before but my listening is on another level, now I'm hearing and that translates into my playing. Or maybe it's because I've been playing for over 35 yrs. Or is it the Bflat vs the Eflat horn thing.

I don't know but I love them both in addition to my Soprano, Clarinet and Alto Clarinet and Flute. Can't wait to get a Bari to add to my regiment of reeds.

Maybe sax doublers are like drummers...Has anyone noticed the percussive paraphanalia a drummer has.
He knows instictively what to play and when.
Does a drummer like his cymbals more than his hi-hat?

The sound that comes forth whether its a French Horn, Oboe or String Bass, or Sax, is what counts as long as it is pleasing to the ear and refreshes the soul.
Enjoy....
Leon