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Which Saxophone Should I Play?

By April 3, 2019September 3rd, 2019saxophone articles


In this video:

  • Types of saxophones
  • Differences on playing each of them
  • How to choose the one that’s right for you

I hear the question, “What kind of saxophone should I play” and it’s usually from beginners who are wondering which horn they should play. But it’s also from some people who are maybe on alto and want to move on to maybe one of the other ones.

Yes, there’s some difficulties in some aspects between the horns, between the different saxophones. But when you learn to play one of the saxophones, one of the more popular voices, like soprano, alto, tenor or bari, you probably all know there’s more than those. There’s there’s actually several more.  There’s bigger than the bari which is the bass and even a bigger one, which is a contra bass, but you rarely see them.They’re rarely used. I’ve seen a contra bass that if you’re not that tall you might have to use a step ladder or a little stool to get up to the mouthpiece. They’re huge.

Tenor Saxophone

Tenor Saxophone

Let’s stick to the four popular ones, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone of course. When I started I fell in love with the tenor because I’m a rock and roller at heart and I listen to a lot of rock and roll and that’s the sax that I heard 90% of the time. So I fell in love with the sound of it and went out and grabbed one and learned how to play it. If you don’t care start with the alto because it is a little easier. If you’re playing the alto and you’re not too bad at it and you switch over to tenor you may find you have a little more difficulties getting the lower last few notes because the tenor is that much bigger and so requires more air.


Alto Saxophone

The bari will be a little harder to play way up on the high register, and to play in tune. The same goes for a soprano. Pretty easy to get the lower notes, when you get to the notes above the high C the D and the D sharp and the E and the F. Those notes are harder to get out. When you do get them out, it’s a little harder to keep the intonation spot-on, but it’s just a little more difficult than the horn you’re used to with a little more work and practice you’re going to get over these hurdles. So don’t worry about it.

Take Advantage of these Free Lessons!

I’ve put together 8 of the first lessons from my beginners guide for anyone that wants to start and learn to play the saxophone right away. You can register after hitting the green button below. You’ll receive access to the first of these video lessons right away.

Register Now!

Baritone and Soprano Saxophones

Generally speaking, most new saxophone students start off learning on either the alto or tenor. They are the easiest. The soprano and baritone saxophones have a few more issues that a beginner will face. 

Although the soprano is smaller than the others, it is very difficult to play in tune. At least for the first little while. The baritone is very big and so will require more air. The intonation will be more difficult as well.

Having said that, I would encourage any student to start on the one they love the sound of the most. If you like them all the same, start on the alto!


Baritone Saxophone

The best thing to do is choose the one that you love the sound of the most. That’s the most obvious. If you don’t care and somebody’s giving you a certain horn, yeah, take lessons check out these videos learn how to play it.


Soprano Saxophone

The saxophone is easy to learn the fingering of course, and then takes a bit more time to develop a good tone, through your embouchure. and proper breathing. But all the little nuances that each of the different saxophones have can be overcome. Their problems can be overcome. All the notes are all the same fingering for all the saxophones. You have to transpose when you play with different instruments because of course, there’s the E flat and B flat. But on its own, the saxophone fingerings are all the same. Go for it! Less talking, more playing. See you later.

By the way, if you’re interested in tips on buying a saxophone check out the article I have written on that as well.

Rent vs Buying

In many circumstances it makes great sense for someone to rent a sax at first. If you’re unsure if you’ll really stick with it or for a school kid who may drop it in a few months.

Many large music store have a rental department and you can be assured the horn you rent from them will be in good playing condition since they have them routinely checked by a repair person. This may not be the case if you’re buying one privately.

A monthly rental for a saxophone is quite reasonable and you’ll know after a few months if you’ll want to keep at it or not and then move on with a decision to start shopping around for one to buy.

Saxophone Keys

All saxophones, except for the C melody which is no longer in production, are transposing instruments. This means that when you play a C on a saxophone, that C will not be a regular concert C as when played on the piano. The alto is called an E flat because when you play a C it sounds Eb on the piano. When you play a C on the tenor it sounds Bb on the piano, that’s why it’s called a Bb tenor. This theory can be difficult to understand at first. I have a more detailed article which explains the saxophone keys theory in more detail.

Are you any closer in answering the question “which saxophone should I play?” Let me know if you have any questions about this. Also, keep this in mind: Deciding on which saxophone to play doesn’t need to be a long and laboring process because you can always switch to another one later!

Good Luck



  • Great blog post Johnny 🙂 When I bought my Trevor James Alto from Massullo Music, one Sax player told me I should have put that money on a good Tenor Sax instead. He felt like the $ I put into my Alto was a waste of $. I’m not sure why everyone thinks the Tenor is a ‘better’ Saxophone. To me, some of the best Sax music in the world is played on the Alto.

    • Steve Lester says:

      I agree, great blog post! And to me, some of the best Sax music in the world is played on the Tenor! LOL! I think it’s a matter of taste or preference. Some Kenny G fans would say “to me, some of the best Sax music in the world is played on the Soprano…”

  • john says:

    yup, everybody’s right!

  • I started with the Alto and I like the sound, however; most of the music that I like is rock and it just sounds better on the tenor to me. However, there are some songs that to me have to be played on the Alto – Baker Street for example; because that is how I first heard them. It also seems like almost all elevator music sound best on Alto, folks songs sound best on Alto, Jazz on Tenor for those low whispy notes, and most rock sounds best on tenor. I think I will be playing both instruments. Bass and Bariton I am not even considering cause I think of them as mini tubas and are part of the bass line. The soprano sounds nice but his too girly and clarinet looking looking me.

  • Exactly 🙂 For me, I would LOVE to develop an Earl Bostic type of tone on the Alto….wow, that would feel awesome 🙂

  • Tim56 says:

    As Johnny says, All comments are good. I do have trouble with one statement though. I want to sound like so and so. Sorry to say, we sound like us! We all hit the keys differently, blow differently etc. We are all different. Listen to all the players. Does johnny sound like Sam Butera?? No. And so it goes. The sound of the Tenor is what I liked all my life. I started way late. So, you do the best you can. Long tones, chromatic scales etc. Johnny just helped me with a set of note transitions that have been bothering me for some time. Got it now! Thanks Johnny!! Hi Mike!!! Tim

  • @ Tim56 Good stuff 🙂 When I was talking about an Earl Bostic type of tone, I wasn’t saying I wanted to sound like Earl Bostic for the reasons you stated. We all have our own distinct sound. It’s the concept of sound, that’s all I was saying. We can drastically affect our sound by having the concept of sound in our head.

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