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Tenor Saxophone vs Alto Saxophone: Similarities and differences


You may be already familiar with the four main types of saxophones: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax. Each sax is different from the others. This article will discuss the differences and similarities between tenor saxophone vs alto saxophone.

Alto Sax

Among the saxophone family, the alto sax produces a mid-high range of sound.

Its range is narrower than that of the straight-shaped soprano sax. Alto saxophones are higher in pitch than tenor and baritone saxophones.

The alto is shaped like the letter “J,” as opposed to the straight-shaped soprano saxophone. Tenor and baritone saxes almost look the same, but the alto’s neck is bent straight at an approximately 90-degree angle.

The lower the sound range of a saxophone, the larger its size. Hence, alto saxophones are larger than soprano saxophones but smaller than tenor and baritone ones.

I encourage younger players to learn to play the alto saxophone since it is easier to manage. It is smaller and lighter. It is easier to transport and handle. The alto may also fit you better if you’re a tiny person.

Tenor Sax

In terms of size, the tenor saxophone is bigger than the alto but smaller than the baritone saxophone.

The timbre of a tenor saxophone is typically described as warmer than an alto’s.

Tenor saxophonists are frequently chosen as solos in various forms of music because the tone of a tenor saxophone is widely believed to be more appealing to the ear.

The tenor saxophone is used in many different forms of music, including the following:

  • orchestral,
  • jazz, and
  • rock


Saxophones are wind instruments with almost similar physical features. Here are some of the similarities between alto and tenor saxophones.

Same fingerings

Generally, the key layout is the same for all four types of saxophones. The fingerings for playing a note on an alto sax are the same as for playing on a tenor sax. Although these two notes will sound somewhat different, the process for producing them is the same.

Same techniques

You may quickly adapt tutorials for the alto saxophone to play on the tenor saxophone. How you play any sax, from breathing, mouth shape or embouchure, and posture, are all the same.


Tenor and alto saxophones are interchangeable, so if you can play one, you can play the other. Many saxophonists choose to start on the alto saxophone before switching to the tenor.


While they are similar in some ways, alto and tenor saxophones are also significantly different. Their main differences are as follows:


The size distinction between the two instruments is the most noticeable factor. The alto sax is smaller, lighter, and easier to control than the tenor sax, which is a little bigger and heavier.

A tenor saxophone’s neck bends down somewhat at the end, while an alto saxophone’s neck slightly rises.

It’s essential to remember that the tenor saxophone’s keys are also farther apart, which needs a slight extension of the player’s hands to hold the instrument correctly and access the keys.

The two instruments’ sizes affect the notes they create. The notes on the alto sax notes are higher and livelier than those on the tenor sax. This difference is mainly due to the size of the alto saxophone. The tenor sax is smooth, rich, and deep.


Neither the alto nor the tenor sax is a concert pitch instrument like the piano. The alto sax is a transposing instrument, and so is the tenor.

A transposing instrument’s pitch is different in written music than what is actually produced.

Tenor players should perform pieces in Bb instrument transposition. The alto saxophone’s C note corresponds to the piano’s E-flat, which is three half-steps away. However, a C on the tenor corresponds to a Bb on the piano.


As mentioned earlier, the sound that an alto and tenor sax produces are not the same. They are in different keys, so pushing three notes on an alto sax will make a different sound than pressing three notes on a tenor sax.

Which type of saxophone is best for beginners?

The alto sax is the ideal instrument for younger players because it is smaller. The technical aspects of this saxophone are more straightforward for newbies to understand.

Once you are used to playing the alto, you can move on to playing other, more enormous varieties of saxes.

If you’re looking for a saxophone based on genre, practically every kind is used in jazz music. However, tenor saxes are the most commonly used in this genre. Thus, tenor saxophones are great options if you’re generally interested in playing jazz.

Learning to play the saxophone

Whatever saxophone family instrument you choose to play, having excellent resources and guidance when studying is essential.

If you don’t have the support of a brilliant teacher, a lovely community of players around you, and some exceptional learning resources, it’s easy to feel discouraged and stop playing.

Sax School offers many learning resources, skilful instructors, and a supportive community for better learning. Join today and start your saxophone journey.

Photograph by Jens Thekkeveettil

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