Alto vs. Tenor Sax – Key Differences


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Learning how to play the saxophone is a great achievement. Especially since this type of musical instrument requires a lot of practice, patience, and determination. From engaging in breathing exercises, to strengthening your lungs to facilitate the perfect hand and finger coordination, all work in harmony to create the music you desire. It is no wonder that jazz music holds so much power and charm. It can sway an audience within seconds!

If you’re interested in learning how to play the saxophone, then you may be aware of the 4 different types of saxophones. If not, then no need to keep browsing the web. In this article, we are going to look at two types of saxophones and analyze the factors that set them apart from each other. These are the alto and tenor saxophones. These two saxophones are the most commonly played ones today. Professional alto saxophone players such as Charlie Parker, and tenor saxophone players such as John Coltrane have left quite a legacy when it comes to playing these instruments. The other two types are called the bass and soprano.

So, let’s dive right in, shall we? Once you are done reading this article, you are going to be sure about which saxophone to invest in.

What is an Alto Sax?

An Alto saxophone belongs to the family of saxophones and is often featured in solo performances, orchestral performances, and bands. This woodwind instrument has a curved body and comes with many keys. As air is blown into the mouth piece, and a different combination of keys are pressed, different music notes are produced.

In addition, the alto sax can be easily purchased within the price range of $800 to $3000. They are available at most music stores due to their popularity and ease of playing as well. Music instructors recommend this saxophone type for children and beginners as it is easier to play and is quite light weight and small.

What Is A Tenor Sax?

The tenor sax is another type of saxophone that is made of brass. This too, has a curved body and comes with keys that are pressed down in the same manner as the alto sax to produce music. It may look the same as the alto sax, but can be immediately differentiated by comparing their size. This saxophone, however, falls within the medium size range of saxophones and was invented in the 1840s. In jazz, the tenor sax is used for playing the harmony due to its deep and rich sound.

The Differences Between An Alto And Tenor Sax

Here are some of the aspects that set the alto and tenor sax apart from each other.

1. The Size

The alto saxophone is smaller in size. This is why it is mostly recommended for beginners by music instructors. It is easy to hold and play with due to its small size. The tenor sax, on the other hand, is a bit bigger and heavier. It is more suited for adults who have larger hands and a greater lung capacity.

2. The Sound

Due to the difference in the size and weight of the two saxophones, the sound produced is also different. The alto produces music notes that are brighter and higher. The tenor sax produces a sound that is more towards the mellow side. The music produced by the tenor is also more rich and deep.

Click here to watch a video on how the alto saxophone sounds. For the tenor sax, click here.

The Similarities Between An Alto And Tenor Sax

1. Accessories and Care

When it comes to the similarities between the two instruments, the accessories that are needed for both instruments stand out as being the same. The case needed to hold the saxophone, along with the cleaning cloths, mouthpiece, and even the reeds – all are essentially the same. In addition, the maintenance and care needed for both the alto and tenor sax are the same as well.

If you’re still contemplating which one to go for, then watch a video here.

Tips On How To Take Care Of Your Alto Or Tenor Sax

If you have decided to invest in a saxophone and wish to give it a try, here are some tips can come in handy. These are on how to take care of your saxophone. By being aware of this information, you can get a better idea of what this instrument requires in terms of maintenance. This is sure to help keep your saxophone looking brand new:

  • Oil the keys every 2 to 3 months. This may vary depending on how often you play the alto or tenor sax. If the keys start to squeak, then that’s your cue to have them oiled right away.
  • Servicing is essential for your alto or tenor sax every month. This helps remove moisture build-up inside
  • Servicing is on the list on a bi-annual basis. This can be done by a qualified technician at any music studio.
  • Avoid washing the mouthpiece with hot water as this can lead to wear and tear and end up damaging your mouthpiece.
  • Use a micro fiber cloth, or polishing cloth to wipe down the surface before and after every use. This will help prevent fingerprint stains.
  • You can use rubbing alcohol to sanitize your alto or tenor sax.

To learn how to clean your saxophone, be it an alto or tenor sax, click here to watch a video.

Invest in Your Desired Instrument Today!

Investing in an instrument takes a lot of time. From knowing all about the instrument itself, to figuring out whether it resonates with your interests, if it is within your budget, and can help you in kick-starting your music career – all go hand in hand when it comes to making the decision. But, with the right guide by your side, this process can be made easy. Now that you know what an alto and tenor sax is, you can make the right pick and purchase your desired instrument without delay. Get started on learning how to play it. Here are two beginner’s lessons on how to play the alto and the tenor sax.

In addition, if you wish to learn more about musical instruments, the different types of music, musicians, or even why your favorite rock band decided to split up, you can head on over to Musician Authority! We are the premier online platform that has a wide variety of content, guides, blogs, and articles on everything related to music. Head on over to our website and browse through the comprehensive category to learn everything you need to know about music!