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I started on alto almost exactly a year ago. I had wanted to try sax for a long time, and when I went into the music store to rent, the clerk suggested I start on alto because it would be easier to learn on than tenor. (Probably also because I'm older, female, and short). So that's what I did. I've tried several horns, and have taken lessons since October. I've now purchased a Cannonball and I do love it. But I've always loved the sound of tenor too. So out of curiosity I decided to rent a tenor, partly to try to understand the difference. Although hard to get used to the size after the alto, I've had no problem adjusting embouchure to the tenor, and no trouble in getting out any of the notes, (except moving between los C# to B and back again -- I sometimes jump up an octave in doing so), going through my regular practice routine on it, and using the play-along books I've use with my alto which also have sections for the Bb instuments. And playing along with the recordings I can tell that my tone is good. It's a Yamaha student sax so not perfect, but really pretty good. I find it easier to be expressive on the tenor, and just all around easier to play, easier to get a good tone, and I don't tense up as much when I'm playing it.

Should this tell me anything? Is it the horn or is it me?

I love both alto and tenor. Should I continue to play both or am I losing time from getting better on one?

Keep in in mind that I'm an amateur and will stay that way. This is for pleasure, although I do take learning the instrument seriously. I would like eventually to hook up with some other amateurs to play with and have some fun.
 

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Sounds familiar. I have a tenor, and when I bought my soprano, I flew over the keys as if I was a veteran in klezmer and gipsy. And then I bouht a baritone, and I honked away like I just couldn't on my tenor.

Until I compared myself with other soprano and bariton players, and found out that I'm a lot better on tenor, although I'm faster on soprano and I have less troubles with my tone on bariton.

I didn't buy an alt though. If there is one sax where I have a very satisfying tone, play with a lot of ease and a speed that is getting fellow sax players a bit jealous, it's an alt. Sounds like my thing, but I just don't play it. I'm not so much into alto. Soprano is great for whining klezmer or speeding through gipsy, tenor is a more full sound and bari is great to honk fat ska tunes. I just have no use for an alt.

So tenor it is, doubling on soprano and bari, and playing on alto whenever I get one in my hands :D

Oh yeah, I'm an amateur, started 3 and 1/2 years ago on tenor, 2 years ago on soprano and a little later on bari. I will stay an amateur, but I take playing very seriously.
 

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For me, the tenor feels like a natural extension of me. The alto feels like a toy, the bari feels robust but not as connected as the tenor. The soprano feels like an extension of the tenor.
 

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I would say, spend your time on whichever you like best, or both. No wrong answer to that one. Splitting your time will not hurt anything -- in fact, it often helps, but if you really find you enjoy one more than the other, there's nothing wrong with switching to tenor, if that's what you want to do.
 

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NU2SAX said:
I find it easier to be expressive on the tenor, and just all around easier to play, easier to get a good tone, and I don't tense up as much when I'm playing it.

Should this tell me anything? Is it the horn or is it me?
Sure, some horns regardless of size, are going to be easier to play. You'll only be able to answer this question by trying other horns. Still, it appears you really dig the tenor, so you definitely want to stick with it. Enjoyment goes a long way in holding your interest in learning new skills and becoming a proficient musician. Now if you want to keep up your alto skills as well, the only problem I see could be with ear training. The alto and tenor are in different keys, and being able to play what you hear could be confusing going from one horn to another. That's why you see a lot of doublers stick to horns in the same key; alto and bari, tenor and soprano. Still... when I was younger, I played all the horns I could get my hands on; soprano, alto, tenor and bari. Still play 'em all now. So basically, if you're just into reading music, and maybe joining a community band, I don't really see too much of a problem taking on both; though I'm sure more orthodox teachers on the site may disagree. But the goal is to have fun, and if playing alto and tenor give you enjoyment, well... there it is. Plus, should you join a community band with too many alto players, you can play tenor; or visa versa.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks all for sharing your experiences and opinions, and for being encouraging. This really helps!
Grumps, I was kind of concerned about that same ear training thing. I think I actually "hear" in tenor, if that makes sense, or maybe "think" in tenor is a better way of putting it. I'm not sure why. I prefer the lower and middle ranges of the alto, and when I played piano I preferred the middle ranges to the high ranges. Sometimes when I'm playing a tune on alto and it takes me up into the higher end the tune just doesn't sound right to me - not because of my tone really but because it doesn't sound right. When I listen to alto players I really love I really get into when they're playing the mid and low ends as opposed to the high range and altissimo. To me those lower ranges sound more like a sax should sound, more sensuous and expressive.

I think I'll work on both and see what happens.

Hope this also helps other relative newcomers too.
 

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NU2SAX said:
When I listen to alto players I really love I really get into when they're playing the mid and low ends as opposed to the high range and altissimo. To me those lower ranges sound more like a sax should sound, more sensuous and expressive.
If you haven't already heard his recordings (other than Take Five), give Paul Desmond a try. For classical, try Sigurd Raschèr. Amazing what they can do up top on an alto.
 

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I Think it is more Common Than You Think

I read somewhere that Branford started on alto and that someone commented that he was hanging out all the time in the lower register. They suggested he try tenor. He did, and the rest is history.

I played primarily alto years ago. When I got back into playing the sax about two years ago, it was on tenor. I had never played bari at all, but I always loved Mulligan, Nick, Pepper -- and all of those old R&B tunes with the big fat bari in the middle.

So I bought one on a whim. The first time I played it I sounded good on it. The sound I wanted seemed to roll right out. And I tried some different brands of horns and some different mouthpieces and could get the sound in my head on most of them without too much effort. It just seemed to come naturally.

I'm still mostly a tenor player, and I love playing tenor. But I've had to work harder to get the sound I want on tenor. The bari comes naturally.

My point: Sometimes one horn will just come more naturally than the others.

I can get a pretty good alto sound too. But interestingly, I have found that getting the alto sound I want seems to screw up my tenor sound, at least temporarily. Conversely, playing bari seems to help my tenor sound -- probably because you have to relax your embrochure to play bari and have good breath support.

I tried soprano on a whim. But truthfully, there are very few soprano players I like and I don't dig the instrument. I definetly did not come naturally. So I got rid of the horn and punted that.

Even though it's kind of a pain in terms of learning tunes, I have decided to focus on tenor and bari. I'm trying to practice both horns every day. I'm hanging on to the alto to take on trips to have something to practice, but I don't play it regularly.

I will say this. I'm not sure why, but there are very few guys who play tenor and alto where I like both their tenor and their alto sounds. I heard one the other night, but he was a pro with many years of experience.

My two cents: Play the one -- or two -- that float(s) your boat. If the one that comes the most naturally is the one that floats your boat, that's all the better. But I think there is some benefit to focusing on a couple of horns rather than spreading yourself to thin.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Grumps, it's not that I HATE the higher register. There are actually few artists whose playing in the higher register really made me go wow. You named a couple of them. With most stuff I listen to, it's the the lower "voices" that really gets me. I'm going to keep working on my harmonics and altissimo on the alto regardless, and try to play well throughout the range of the horn.

I think the advice on focusing on one or two horns is good - despite choosing one in Eb and one in Bb. I don't plan on going bari or contra - they'd be taller than I am for one thing!

It's definitely interesting to read about how more experienced players found their voices.

What beautiful instruments they ALL are though.
 

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NU2SAX said:
I started on alto almost exactly a year ago. I had wanted to try sax for a long time, and when I went into the music store to rent, the clerk suggested I start on alto because it would be easier to learn on than tenor. (Probably also because I'm older, female, and short). So that's what I did. I've tried several horns, and have taken lessons since October. I've now purchased a Cannonball and I do love it. But I've always loved the sound of tenor too. So out of curiosity I decided to rent a tenor, partly to try to understand the difference. Although hard to get used to the size after the alto, I've had no problem adjusting embouchure to the tenor, and no trouble in getting out any of the notes, (except moving between los C# to B and back again -- I sometimes jump up an octave in doing so), going through my regular practice routine on it, and using the play-along books I've use with my alto which also have sections for the Bb instuments. And playing along with the recordings I can tell that my tone is good. It's a Yamaha student sax so not perfect, but really pretty good. I find it easier to be expressive on the tenor, and just all around easier to play, easier to get a good tone, and I don't tense up as much when I'm playing it.

Should this tell me anything? Is it the horn or is it me?

I love both alto and tenor. Should I continue to play both or am I losing time from getting better on one?

Keep in in mind that I'm an amateur and will stay that way. This is for pleasure, although I do take learning the instrument seriously. I would like eventually to hook up with some other amateurs to play with and have some fun.

I've been playing about 3 months now. I always figured that if I played sax, I would play tenor or bari. My first ax was a Selmer Tenor. Great horn, nothing wrong with it, but I just can't seem to catch a 'vibe' with the tenor...it's not so much about the lack of ability on the instrument or 'newbieness', it's just that I can't get a 'connection' with the horn. Maybe later.

I then got a soprano which I love (Mauriat saxello). I immediately felt a connection with this ax and was able to play it much better than the tenor. But I also wanted to be working on a 'main' ax....

so I picked up an old Naked Lady Conn alto from a friend of mine...BOING!!!!!

I still like the soprano, and I'm keeping the tenor with the assumption that perhaps with more experience and growth on the other horns I might be able to grow closer to it, but man the alto just SHOUTS for me. Don't get me wrong...I've got a LOT of work to do, but at least I feel like I've got a friend in my hands and mouth and not an enemy....

bigtiny
 

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bigtiny said:
I feel like I've got a friend in my hands and mouth and not an enemy....

bigtiny
I like the way you say this:cheers:
 

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Hmm..thanks for the interesting post.

I, too, love the sound of tenor, but I've never really quite gotten around to it. If I did play tenor, I know exactly the sound I'd go for. I love playing the alto, and I like the high register plus altissimo, but for me, I just...love the lower end. The lower register really does it for me.

Maybe I should try tenor, though I know I'd never give up alto.
 

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Tenor is the one that speaks to (and for) me. I like all the horns, in the right hands, but for my own playing I just gravitate to the tenor. I started out on alto and actually played alto for quite a few years, but once I got on the tenor that was it for me. Every once in a while I pick up the alto and I enjoy it, but I usually can't wait to get back on the tenor.

Nu2sax, you sound like a tenor player to me, based on what you said so far. Give it try and see. In any case you have to spend some time on whatever horn you play before making any snap judgment.
 

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In find that the tenor is much more used to me for what i want...I tried alto and went along to my local jam night ... and the hassle of transposing was horrendous... the band was in E which put me in something stupid like C#... whereas on tenor I only have to transpose ONE tone up. (F .one flat).. also I find that tenor is about trombone range which makes it versatile enough to play low background accompaniment yes still have the range to scream in on a solo and take a good lead...where as an alto meant sitting around untill a lead solo was required.... In C# ???? bugger that when alto plays accompaniment it seems too prominent unless it is part of a ensemble! with tenor and trumpet/trombone
I have heard some amature Alto players and a lot of them sound like thay are playing a kazoo
 

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Pipster said:
In find that the tenor is much more used to me for what i want...I tried alto and went along top my local jam night and the hassle of transposing was horrendous... the band was in E which put me in something stupid like C#... wheras on tenor I only have to transpose ONE tone up... aslo I find that tenor is about trombone range which makes it versatile enough to play low backgrouind accompaniment yes still have the range to scream in on a solo and take a good lead...where as an alto meant sitting around untill a lead solo was required.... In C# ???? bugger that
If someone were to call a tune, say blues in B (oh yeah, it happens-more than you'd think), you'd still have to play in Db/C#.

The only answer is to play equally badly in all keys.;)
 

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Pipster said:
... and the hassle of transposing was horrendous... the band was in E which put me in something stupid like C#... whereas on tenor I only have to transpose ONE tone up. (F .one flat).. also I find that tenor is about trombone range which makes it versatile enough to play low background accompaniment yes still have the range to scream in on a solo and take a good lead...
Actually, E concert will put you in F# on tenor. But key shouldn't matter that much. As hakukani says, learn to play equally (bad or good) in all keys! C# is not a "stupid key." I end up playing in both F# and C# on tenor quite often. I do agree that the tenor is more versatile and better suited for playing background lines in a blues/R&B situation.
 

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It is better to stick with one instrument because you are giving your body and mind to it and it needs you to understand carefully the way in which it hears. A musical instrument is nothing, it is just an object that is ethereal like all other objects. A musical instrument says, I am perfect, because man built me to be exactly as I am now. So the key to adjusting to an instrument is to be just like the instrument itself, feeling only one instrument, knowing only one mind, and that is the way in which we learn things that we do not know, because they are coming out of sound and sound is a force that generates out of nothing, it is pure emotion, like the trees and the sand and the mountain, everything comes from the same place in all ways and it is only necessary to trust in yourself and always feel love.
 

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JL said:
Actually, E concert will put you in F# on tenor. But key shouldn't matter that much. As hakukani says, learn to play equally (bad or good) in all keys! C# is not a "stupid key." I end up playing in both F# and C# on tenor quite often. I do agree that the tenor is more versatile and better suited for playing background lines in a blues/R&B situation.
You need to get comfortable in F# and C#on Eb horns; and B and F# on Bb horns if you ever plan on playing with guitarists. A lot of them gravitate (very heavily) towards those (easy for them) keys.
 

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Hi

I loved your letter because I am having the same dilemma. I love the higer alto register players, Desmond, Konitz, Pepper adn thought that I would develop chops like them. Ha! I sound like low resigter alto or high register tenor unles I mute the horn which then is an unatural tone. I really want to try the soprano and trade in my alto. My natural horn is a tenor that is what I learned on many years ago. Quit and came back to an alto because every body said they are the best to learn on again "easiest". I can pick up any tenor and produce a great sound in Bb but hard work for me on the Eb alto. Please help me you guys what horn. I learned in the 70's on Conn Bb Tenor. Still the best sound for me. I am serious not professional either but really what to get good> Lenny Chavez
 

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hakukani said:
The only answer is to play equally badly in all keys.;)
:cool: I do that really good. :D
I have 2 tenors and an alto. Just love the tenors but the alto is my baby and my all time favorite.:cool:
 
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