What Are The Main Differences Between Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Baritone Saxophones?
Updated: May 11
I have recently received a series of questions about the saxophone and saxophone practice; I thought it would be useful to share the answers here for everyone in a series of blog posts.
Here's the first one...
Question: "What’s the main difference between soprano, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones?
The smaller the instrument, the higher the sound; the bigger the instrument, the lower the sound.
So out of these 4 main saxophone types, the lowest sounding saxophone is the Baritone, then the Tenor, then the Alto, with the highest sounding one being the Soprano.
Because the instruments are different sizes you need to have the correct sized mouthpiece, reed and ligature for each one:
e.g. you need an alto mouthpiece, ligature and reed for an alto saxophone (the baritone one won’t fit!).
The finger positions are the same on all saxophones - so a “G” is always the 1st 3 fingers on the left hand. But, because the instruments are all different sizes, the sound will be different - the alto higher; the tenor lower etc.
The piano is in what is called “Concert Pitch”. The saxophone is a “Transposing Instrument”. The alto & baritone are in Eb; the soprano & tenor in Bb.
What this means is that if you play a “C” on the alto or baritone, to make the same sound on a piano you must play an Eb.
If you play a “C” on the soprano or tenor, to make the same sound on a piano you must play a Bb.
So, they are called “Eb & Bb Instruments” because of how they relate to the piano, or to concert pitch.