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alto sounds terrible after having started bari

14847 Views 37 Replies 26 Participants Last post by  cazzz
I bought a baritone sax (Selmer SA80 II) around two weeks ago. I have been playing alto for some twenty years (and Tenor for around two years now) and believed to have found a good tone. I am still not satisfied with my eartraining, but that's another matter and I am working on that. But:

When I practiced on the baritone for some time and switch to my alto, the alto seems to be so shrill, so lacking some frequencies, so terrible sounding. But I am still playing the same alto-mouthpiece-reed-comgination. My perception seems to shift. My before so nice tone becomes something terrible. Somehow I have to refind the tonal qualities in playing the alto sax.

Can anyone else share my experience? Give some advice? Do I just have to be patient?
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Alto players who go to bari then back often have this problem. It's just a matter of keeping both concepts/ embouchures strong. Try practicing them both together and thinking of the alto as an extention of the baritone and vice versa. Bari seems so relaxed and rich after alto. You'll get used to it.
This is just me, but I've recently come to the conclusion that it's impossible (again, for me) to maintain anything like a respectable tone/set of chops on alto without being really dedicated to it. The bigger horns are more forgiving, somehow, but the alto just reveals my lack of dedication. At the risk sounding sexist, she really is a "lyric lady" in that sense--very demanding.


I play primarily tenor and bari. I own a pretty nice alto and an elcheapo soprano.

The advice I got is this. And it makes sense if you think about it. If you are going to switch between horns -- particularly in a gig situation -- you need to practice switching. I am trying to practice tenor and bari every day. I try to do long tones on both. If I don't make that, I alternate -- one day on bari and one on tenor. Then I try to switch up during practice -- have the scales I do on bari and half on tenor, etc. All things considered, I spend more time on tenor, but I do get the bari in there. If I don't do this, switching around is difficult. If I do it, switching is not too bad.

Even though it would make more sense in some ways to play horns in the same key (bari/alto) or (tenor/soprano), I like tenor and bari best, so that's what I'm focusing on. I keep the alto around for travel practice. I keep the soprano around because I'm afraid if I sell it I will convince myself to buy a better one.

When I first bought the alto I have, I spent a day or so mostly playing that. When I picked back up my tenor, I sounded like crap. My bari sound was still ok. Bottom line, I put the alto in the closet for travel practice and special occaisions.

The funny thing is, when I was younger, alto was my main horn.

I don't know that many people who get a sound I really like on all four saxes -- or even three out of four. I'm not saying it is impossible. I'm just saying that for me, I've decided to focus on two out of the main four, practice switching, and leave it at that.

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I have played tenor for about 25 years, and just recently picked up bari and soprano... I had to do alot of research and practicing on soprano to get the tone I wanted, but Im beginnig to like what I hear now...still have a along way to go ofcourse.. Bari on the other hand is way more difficult for me but I feel Im getting better on that one too....

I have tried alto on several occations for longer and shorter periods of time but I sound like crap on it every time, even on a markVI.... The alto hates me & I hate the alto:D
You wont find many alto players in my cd collection either...:evil:
Over time you will develop what I call "embouchure memory" that kicks in when you pick up a different instrument. That, in addition to "tonal concept memory", is what doubling is all about. Play one for 30 minutes then the other 30 minutes and focus on the sound you are trying to achieve. The hardest change for me is clarinet to soprano sax. They are so different and yet feel so much the same. When I was playing a lot of bari sax in college, it really seemed to help my breathing and forced me to open my throat more. When I transfered these playing habits to the alto my tone and control improved dramatically. Just give it some time.
Hmmm...this is just the kind of thread I need to read right now. I just got an alto back from a pad job which hasn't seen a lot of playing time because of the screwy pads it used to have. Now that it is back, it responds very well, but I prefer my tenor sound so much that I wonder if I'll ever put the time into the alto required to get the sound to be almost as good. I don't have that much time for play/practice as it is. Even though both horns are the same make and vintage and now have the same type of pads, it's a whole different ballgame on alto vs. tenor for me.

MarkVIinNorway's comment about not having many alto players in the CD collection certainly rings true with me too. I'm a huge Frank Morgan fan, but I can't sound anything even remotely similar to him on alto. Other than Frank, I have just a few Cannonball CD's and and Art Pepper or two and that's about it.
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Same Here

I guess you can say that the same goes for me, except that it doesn't just happen to "doublers" on the saxophones. I have played in live performances, and occasionally switched between the alto saxophone and the tenor depending on the song. I realized on the first night that I tried doubling, that the alto and tenor Saxes may be related, but they are like oil and vinegar- if you try to do the exact same thing on both Saxes it won't work. I use two totally different embrochures for the alto and tenor, and so I have to use a separate mentality for each sax.

However, this doesn't happen on the saxophones alone, if you play more than a few instruments, you will know what I mean. Flute, and Bass flute-Almost the same things, but totally different styles.

This is at least my opinion of doubling on two instruments that are related. Somebody else might be different than me.
But as for me, if I try to do the same stuff on the alto that I do on my tenor, I WILL squeak :yikes!:. Embarrassment: I never thought I would feel that again. But I did.

-The AOM Saxist-
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It's funny how so many non-saxophonist musicians don't understand that.
A local big band leader who plays trumpet was asking if I could play some alto for some gigs they have coming up (I had been subbing for their regular Baritone player.). I said I'd like to but warned him that I hadn't played alto in a few years.
His response? "They're the same fingerings, aren't they?"
littlemanbighorn said:
It's funny how so many non-saxophonist musicians don't understand that.
A local big band leader who plays trumpet was asking if I could play some alto for some gigs they have coming up (I had been subbing for their regular Baritone player.). I said I'd like to but warned him that I hadn't played alto in a few years.
His response? "They're the same fingerings, aren't they?"
give him a tuba...same fingering,isnt it?...maybe it isnt for all I know..hehe:shock:
Give up alto?

I was really feeling comfortable with my alto tone. But probably because I compared it with my former alto sound and others playing alto. And when I listen to recordings of myself, I love my tone on the alto. But maybe more because of the phrasing, etc.

Should I give up playing my alto and switch to tenor and bari, which would really be a big decision? I also considered buying a tenor when I bought my alto a few years ago. I didn't take enough time and didn't even try out a tenor then. I let myself be pushed...

I never really thought about it, especially because I only have an old Yamaha student tenor since last year and a bari for a few weeks. I haven't tried to play my tenor since I got my Bari.

And I think about my record collection, I mostly listen to tenor... and the alto players, I am not sure, if when they play tenor or alto. I never really think about what sax a musician is playing, just about if it sounds good or not.
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I've been a straight up alto player since i had started to play 8 or so years ago and had never even thought about switching to any other until i was told to play tenor in my band for a few songs. I didn't think much of it because it is the same fingering(like littlemanbighorn had mentioned before) but wow, i couldn't even get a sound out of it the first time. Even to this day when i try and play it i can but i am very flat no matter how much i push and pull. It probably didn't help that it was a Bundy II :(

Cazzz you should let us know how the back and forth switching turns out and which way seemed to work best.
I play soprillo through bass sax, all at the intermediate level. Whenever I move to a new instrument I hate my sound for a long time. I try different mouthpieces and reed combinations and get the best instrument I can afford. Sometimes I have to have the instrument adjusted for certain problems. But it just makes playing easier in the long run so I get the instrument regulated.

After a while the sound kinda normalizes, I get the intonation working across the full range of the horn. But I have to play the instruments, switching between them to keep them up to snuff. I don't play enough hours to just grab a horn and make it sound great. But once I get the right setup, the instrument just sings and within a very short time I can get the sound I'm looking for.
my "solution" is ...

playing the alto first. Thus I can avoid the "perception" shifting and it doesn't sound that high.

No, it is complicated. I am not happy with my bari sound, yet. It would be too much to be satisfied after playing for some meager weeks. I have to find the right mouthpiece, although I guess the Berg Larson (Gold, 105/2) I got with the sax is not too bad. I feels quite small compared to my Otto Link Nr. 8 on my alto. But it allows me to play LaVoz medsoft compared with the soft(ies) I play on my alto. And more important I have to practice some time on it.

I did a quick trial with my Beechler 6L in order to play medsoft reeds on my alto, but it sounded too shrill and I quickly changed back to my OL 8.

Today I am going to play my tenor since I bought the bari. I am curious how this will sound...

I think my real frustration at the moment is that I firstly am not in full shape and so am playing worse than usual. I have been going through some difficult times lately... Secondly having to think about skipping my alto makes me nervous.

PS: thanks for all your posts, it's good to share my thoughts and hear from you
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I hear ya...

For what it's worth, here's my story.

I played alto sax exclusively until arriving at college, where I was switched to Bari in order to play with the better jazz ensemble. My Bari sound was really bad at first, finding myself out of wind easily, dizzy and spinning during practice sessions. But, like an earlier post said, this completely helped my tone on the alto, and after finding a great mouthpiece for the Bari, my sound was eventually very good and even better on alto. This was after about 3 months of solid practice (5+ hours a day! wish I had that kinda time now...) At that time I could switch from alto to bari, and even added soprano, without losing quality of sound.

And then one fine day I added tenor to the mix. I immediately took to the tenor and had a decent sound, and landed a few gigs outside of the college bands. Most of the gigs were for rock & funk bands and some wedding stuff as well, but all of them wanted tenor. Because of this I moved away from the bari and alas even the alto, and eventually stopped playing bari and alto all together.

So here it is many years later, and now I am wanting to play my alto again(such a wonderful horn!), but I just cannot get a decent tone. I set myself to practicing the alto for one month solid (1-2 hours, 4 days per week) and still no luck. I've tried to change my mouthpiece setup but nothing has worked, and now I'm eyeing those expensive old Meyers and Babbits, which I've never played, in hopes that maybe I just need to find a more open piece and that will be the holy grail.

Perhaps getting a new neck for the alto (Phil Barone?) would help. Anyone have luck with a new neck? New mouthpiece? I'm hoping one day it will just snap, but that day has yet to come.

Woe-is-me. :D

Anyway....back to practicing....Cheers! :)
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The only problem I ever had with switching back and forth between the Alto and the Bari was the size of the instruments as well as how loudly I'd play. Bari was always huge and intimidating. I had to work so much harder to sound good. Keep in mind that I'm rather short, and not very strong... I have problems with my hands and wrists which add even more difficulties.

As far as the Alto Sax is concerned, after switching from Bari, I'd be playing a bit too strongly for the rest of the band to keep up.
Hey mr. Kriz

I read in a book that it is much more easy to play the lower saxes than alto or even soprano, because one has to be more precise in embouchure, smaller changes in the lips, mouth etc. make the same impact in soprano or alto than bigger ones with tenor or even baritone. Which absolutely makes sense to me. The book, I guess it is one from larry teal, says one has to be very careful not to get sluggish while playing the bigger saxes ... not much of an advice I guesss...

And the size is a kind of a problem, auntsaxohpone, I agree. One more point for alto (and tenor...).

I played my cheapo Tenor yesterday and having a nice sound felt very easy. One more point against my alto, I am afraid :(
I think that low vs. high sax dichotomy depends on what you want to do with it as well as your expectations--though I'm just thinking out loud here. If you're trying to get a very precise melodic feel out of a tenor or bari, it's really far more difficult than on alto or soprano.

Those of us who are really just sax hobbyists who are lucky to find an hour or two each night to play/practice after our day jobs are in a real bind if we want to explore more than one type of sax and expect to get anywhere with it, I'm afraid. But I just now got my alto adjusted so that it plays well--so I'll give it more time before I hoc it for that backup tenor. This alto is a 99K VI and has a bottom end so warm and fat, you might mistake it for a tenor! I think that may be part of my dissatisfaction actually. That fatness means the sound is a bit more spread than I expect from an alto and I think that sometimes leads to me trying to force a more focused sound out of it. Still, it projects that deep, fat tone like no alto I've ever played, so it's worth a little more experimentation.

I wonder if anyone out there with doubling issues has two consistent horns that are nearly identical--like a Yamaha alto and tenor of the same model etc. ?
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can you explain a little bit more

superbaguy said:
... If you're trying to get a very precise melodic feel out of a tenor or bari, it's really far more difficult than on alto or soprano.
Interesting thought, but I am not 100% sure I understand correctly what you mean by melodic feel. Maybe you could explain it a bit more in depth?

superbaguy said:
Those of us who are really just sax hobbyists who are lucky to find an hour or two each night to play/practice after our day jobs are in a real bind if we want to explore more than one type of sax and expect to get anywhere with it, I'm afraid.
Sigh! I agree. I wish I could play/practice more...

Actually I have a Selmer SA 80 Alto and Baritone. But just starting on the bari, so I won't be able to say anything profound on the subject...
Reading this thread makes me feel like I'm in good company. I spent nearly my whole life playing alto, with a little bit of bari, without ever being entirely satisfied with my alto sound. 2 months ago I picked up a tenor for the first time and was floored by the sound I was able to produce within the first 20 minutes. Either I found my dream "tenor setup" completely by accident, or the tenor is just really, really easier for me to play. It made me wonder what I've been doing wrong on alto (causing me to try different reeds, mouthpieces, etc.) all these years.

The silver lining is that since I've started on tenor, I've noticed that I seem to get a fatter sound on alto when I pick it back up. A little out of control at first, but fatter. So maybe playing tenor, whether it's opening up the throat more or simply adding more breath support, was what I needed. I don't know. I guess I've concluded that over the long haul, playing a larger instrument regularly should be a net positive on alto playing, at least when it comes to breath support. Naturally, everyone's different.
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