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Notes on “The Other Saxophones”

If you play only one saxophone, you don't play them all." Rousseau believes in the value of versatility, whether it is the ability to speak the language of classical music in addition to the language of jazz, to teach music history and music theory, or to have a working familiarity with soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. He encourages his students to perform on more than one member of the saxophone family because "if you play more than one saxophone, you're doubling." 

Most important among the differences between the various saxophones is the mouthpiece pitch for each instrument - concert C for soprano, A for alto, G for tenor, and D for baritone. Although soprano and tenor, like alto and baritone, are pitched an octave apart as instruments, the mouthpiece pitch is not. The shape of the embouchure is the same for each saxophone but the size of the shape changes with the size of the instrument - "When changing saxophones, change the size of the circle." The larger saxophones require a larger quantity of air as well- the displacement (i.e., the amount of air inside the instrument) of the tenor is eight times that of the soprano and the displacement of the baritone is eight times that of the alto. "Each instrument has an optimum amount of air." The soprano, for example, should not use an air stream like the alto or the clarinet - it's in between. An air stream that is too thin on tenor will be, when compared to alto, even more detrimental. 

Intonation tendencies also vary. For example, high E and F can be sharp on alto saxophone but are often flat on tenor; low B may be sharp on soprano but flat on baritone. Middle D tends to be sharp on each family member but is markedly so on tenor; sometimes LSKI can be used instead of the octave key to help with this problem. G above the staff is often quite sharp on baritone and therefore the lower octave should be used to tune concert B-flat. E on alto is high, while on soprano it is low; B on alto will be slightly low, while on soprano it has a tendency to be high. Other tuning situations specific to each of the different saxophones are found in the chapter on tuning. 

There are differences between certain registers as well. The soprano, for example, is more resistant than the alto in the lower register. Difficulties with pitches in the soprano's upper register can be similar to the problems encountered in the altissimo register of the alto - in each case, using the air rather than the tongue to articulate is advisable. The baritone's "cracking" between middle D and G-sharp (where the lower octave vent is employed) is characteristic of the instrument. The tenor's high G and G-sharp (the highest notes of the first octave key) are also unstable and as a result have a tendency to crack because the upper vent tube is too low; Rousseau recommends playing the pitches without tonguing in order to "find the target." 

There are crucial differences in the altissimo register, which is most difficult on soprano and less so on the larger instruments. The tenor is frequently flat in that register and often should use fingerings that are a half-step higher than the alto; in other words, use the alto's G fingering for the tenor's F-sharp. Unlike the smaller saxophones, the baritone overblows the palm keys a minor sixth; as the palm key pitches become higher it gets closer to a major sixth. 


"The soprano is not a gold-colored clarinet" and therefore requires a different embouchure and air stream than the clarinet. The soprano will feel different because the hands are extremely close to the body but there is no substantial difference in the angle between soprano and alto because the angle of the head is different - the critical factor is that the instrument must come to the player comfortably. 

Be certain that the weight of the instrument is on the neck strap rather than the hands, especially the right thumb. The shorter levers of the soprano compared to the alto will result in much less distance traveled by the keys and will be very obvious to the player. "Don't put too much air through the soprano - there's a maximum point." For an instrument with a curved neck, the bell is almost straight down with the right hand very near the body. The straight soprano is at such a different angle (it must either be held out or the player must duck his head) that it may sound very differently to the performer but not to the audience. Rousseau notes that simply supporting the straight soprano saxophone with the right thumb can create a problem of endurance. 

The soprano saxophone seems to present more possibilities for unique trill fingerings. 

• High D to E: Trill the LSK3. Trilling the RSK4 may also work. 

• C to D-flat: Trill the RSK2 or, possibly, the RSKI and 2 together. 

• A to B: Trill the RSK2. 

• A-flat to B-flat: Trill the RSK\. 

• Middle D pianissimo: Use the RSK3 only. 

• Middle C-sharp: It is possible to finger low C-sharp without the first finger of the left hand and with no octave key. 

• Middle F-sharp: It is possible to use the ring finger (instead of the middle finger) of the right hand. 


The tenor saxophone shares many intonation tendencies with the alto. However, both fingerings for high F are flat on tenor; adding the G-sharp key to the front F fingering can help. When playing the tenor from a seated position, don't let the right arm go back. Whether playing seated or standing, the instrument should be kept forward. Unlike the other saxophones, tenors with the RSK4 can play the side keys up to middle F. Rousseau finds that it is easier to get good reeds for tenor and baritone than it is for soprano and alto. 

Baritone - 

"You'll never regret getting a baritone with a low A. The high F-sharp is not as important." One should be aware that the low A key will cause the left hand to assume a slightly different position. 

Because of the tremendous weight of the baritone saxophone, several approaches have been taken. Rousseau thinks that a floor peg similar to that found on bass clarinet is the best answer. A socket is soldered to the bottom of the instrument and an adjustable rod is screwed into the socket. A harness is also possible as is a tripod, but that seems to be the least satisfactory solution because of the lack of flexibility. 

One must remember to play out on the baritone because its sound will not carry as much as the alto. "You will never have too much air with either baritone or flute."