Difference Between Alto and Tenor Saxophone

A saxophone is a musical instrument that is controlled using the holes in its body. It has a conical figure. It is used in most kinds of music like classical music, jazz music, or contemporary music. To produce the sound, the reed inside a mouthpiece vibrates. There are leather pads to cover the holes according to the music. There are four different saxophones: soprano, tenor, bass, and alto. Alto and tenor saxophones are popular among professional musicians.

Alto Saxophone vs Tenor Saxophone

The main difference between alto and tenor saxophone is that alto saxophone is smaller than tenor saxophone. While alto saxophone is lighter and easier to manage for people with small hands, tenor saxophones are preferred mostly by expert musicians. Both have intricate structures but produce the same notes.

Alto and Tenor

Alto saxophone is one of the standard instruments in concert bands. It has an aesthetic style with a wide range of lacquer finish. It is larger than the soprano saxophone. Mainly used in jazz music, the alto saxophone has efficient key styling that enables smooth fingerings.

The tenor saxophone is medium-sized in the woodwind family. It is a key instrument in solo jazz performances. It is a B-flat instrument that was popular in military bands and later got into mainstream American music genres. It incorporates the S-bend to fit easily in the mouth.

Comparison Table Between Alto Saxophone and Tenor Saxophone

Parameters of ComparisonAlto SaxophoneTenor Saxophone

What is Alto Saxophone?

Alto saxophone belongs to the woodwind instruments family. It is called alto sax or alto. It is widely preferred by concert bands, military bands, and jazz musicians. Alto saxophone has played a crucial role in the development of jazz music. Alto saxophonists play the lead melody in jazz. In classical music, the use of alto sax is low. It has an Eb pitch. It was invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s.

Alto saxophone has a range of concert Db3 to concert Ab5. It is a transposing instrument as the music notation is not written at the concert pitch. Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond, Ornette Coleman, and Cannonball Adderley are some of the notable alto saxophonists in jazz music. While Larry Teal, Tim McAlister, Harry White, and Donald Sinta are famous classical alto saxophonists.

It is the go-to option for beginners due to its small size and comparatively low price. Alto sax can be used to play the lead voice in various music genres like jazz, funk, pop, and classical music. These kinds of saxophones are manufactured by companies like Yamaha, Cannonball, and Buffet Crampon.

What is Tenor Saxophone?

The tenor saxophone is a widely used transposing instrument that belongs to the family of saxophones invented by Adolphe Sax. It has a medium size and has a pitch of Bb. It has a bright tone and is a key instrument in jazz music. The tenor saxophone is used to play harmony in jazz music. It was used in military bands soon after its invention. Concert bands and saxophone quartets require tenor saxophones as it is a standard instrument.

It has a conical metallic tube structure with a mouthpiece, reed, and ligature. One end of the saxophone is wide while the other end is narrow. There are 20 to 23 holes down the bore. It is curved at the top. It has a wedge-shaped mouthpiece.

 Famous tenor sax players are Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, and Lester Young. Initially, the tenor saxophone was intended to create a tonal link between the other instruments in a military band. Afterwards, it came into use in classical, jazz, and rock music. R&B music is strongly influenced by tenor saxophone. The innovations in American music are partly a result of the prominence of tenor saxophones.

Main Differences Between Alto Saxophone and Tenor Saxophone

  1. Alto saxophone is smaller and lighter than tenor saxophone, which is comparatively large and heavy.
  2. While alto saxophone is pitched to E-flat, tenor saxophone has a pitch of B-flat.
  3. Tenor saxophone has a larger mouthpiece than alto saxophone.
  4. Unlike alto saxophone, tenor saxophone has a curve in the neck. The Alto saxophone is straight towards the neck.
  5. Tenor saxophone has a deep sound, while alto saxophone creates brighter notes.


Alto and tenor saxophones are known as transposing instruments with similar nature. These saxophones are mostly preferred by musicians. Saxophones have universal fingerings, and hence anyone can play any type of saxophone. Both saxophones give an incredible user experience with manageable fingerings and a smooth blending sound. They have the same fingerings, notes, and the same basic structure of the mouthpiece and reed to produce sound.

These saxophones are the most used in the woodwind family. Beginners and amateurs choose alto saxophone for its size advantage. People with small hands can manage alto saxophone better. Expert musicians look for tenor saxophones. Younger students mostly use alto saxophone as their lung capacity is not ample enough for the tenor saxophone’s requirements.

Although there is a significant variation in the note register of both these instruments, it is only evident when using sheet music written for another saxophone. The accessory requirements for these saxophones are similar. The purpose of both these saxophones is different as an alto sax is used to make higher notes and a tenor sax for lower notes.

Alto and tenor saxophones are used in popular music. The tenor saxophone is more expensive than the alto saxophone. The pitch of the alto saxophone is like the counterpart of a woman’s voice, and the tenor saxophone is like a male voice counterpart. The requirements and preferences of the user must align while choosing the saxophone.


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