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The 2nd alto chair is one of the most difficult in the section, for the reasons mentioned elsewhere in the thread, and because you have to be much more of a technician so there's less room for artistic expression. If you want more improv solos, talk to your director and let him know you want to play. Directors can assign and reassign solos, particularly on a blues tune or some other "open" section.

The trick to playing 2nd alto is called "ghosting". You have to almost completely focus on the lead alto's performance and copy it as much as possible, but one step less. You volume should be one dynamic level less than the lead player. Your sound should be one step darker than the lead player. Your phrasing and time feel should match the lead player exactly. Your pitch should match the lead player exactly. This all takes a lot of work and concentration, but can be mastered with practice and focus. A good lead player will be consistent, and they'll really appreciate your nailing this "ghosting" technique because it will make their job a lot easier, and the section will sound a lot better, too.
 
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