Alto vs Tenor Saxophone: Difference and Comparison

A saxophone is a musical instrument controlled using the holes in its body. It has a conical figure. It is used in most kinds of music, like classical, jazz, 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 saxophones: soprano, tenor, bass, and alto. Alto and tenor saxophones are popular among professional musicians.

Key Takeaways

  1. Alto saxophones have a higher pitch and smaller size than tenor saxophones.
  2. Tenor saxophones produce a richer sound than alto saxophones, making them famous for jazz and other music genres.
  3. The choice between alto and tenor saxophones depends on personal preference, musical goals, and physical comfort.

Alto Saxophone vs Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone is larger and heavier than the alto. The tenor saxophone is around 26 inches long, while the alto saxophone is 24 inches long. The alto has a higher range than the tenor saxophone. The alto saxophone is pitched in the E-flat key, while the tenor saxophone’s B-flat.

Alto Saxophone vs Tenor

The alto saxophone is one of the standard instruments in concert bands. It has an aesthetic style with a wide range of lacquer finishes. 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 crucial instrument in solo jazz performances.

It is a B-flat instrument popular in military bands and later became mainstream American music genre. It incorporates the S-bend to fit easily in the mouth.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonAlto SaxophoneTenor Saxophone

What is Alto Saxophone?

The 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.

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The Alto saxophone has played a crucial role in developing 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. Adolphe Sax invented it 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 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 play the lead voice in various music genres like jazz, funk, pop, and classical.

Companies like Yamaha, Cannonball, and Buffet Crampon manufacture these saxophones.

alto saxophone scaled

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 crucial 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 standard instruments.

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

Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, and Lester Young are famous tenor sax players. Initially, the tenor saxophone was intended to create a tonal link between the other instruments in a military band.

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Afterwards, it became used in classical, jazz, and rock music. The tenor saxophone strongly influences R&B music. The innovations in American music are partly a result of the prominence of tenor saxophones.

tenor saxophone 1

Main Differences Between Alto Saxophone and Tenor Saxophone

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

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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8 thoughts on “Alto vs Tenor Saxophone: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The comparison table is of great utility, it is very easy to understand all the differences between these two instruments.

  2. I learned a lot from reading this article, and I found it very interesting how the importance of these instruments in relation to American music history.

  3. This article is very informative, I did not know that there were so many differences and details behind these musical instruments. Thank you!

  4. I disagree with the article, because reasons X, Y, Z. I see that these instruments are actually more similar than they are portrayed here.

  5. I would rather listen to a symphony of saxophones instead of violins any day. I really enjoyed the part of the article that explains the characteristics of the alto sax.


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