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How to easily make the transition from Clarinet to Tenor Saxophone

Updated on January 8, 2013

Why Make the Transition?

Often playing the Clarinet, especially if you’re a boy, can be embarrassing. From personal experience I used to think it was the worst instrument to play throughout high school and desperately wanted to change. Something I’m very proud of is that I didn’t give up on the Clarinet. Embarrassment should not be the reason to change instruments; it should be because of a desire for variety and to broaden your range and musical interest.

One of the most prevalent reasons people choose to take up the Saxophone from the clarinet is because of entry to a jazz band. Although the clarinet is a superb instrument to play in a woodwind band or orchestra; unless soloing it is not the greatest jazz instrument. The saxophone is the most iconic instrument associated with jazz music and in high school nothing says “cool” like playing the “sax” in a jazz band.

Why the Tenor Saxophone?

Simply put, it’s easiest to move from Clarinet to Tenor sax rather than the other saxophones because both instruments are in the same key. Both the Clarinet and Tenor sax are in Bb tuning so if you have been playing the clarinet for a while it is easy to make the transition whilst not becoming confused in the saxophones relation to concert pitch.

The Tenor saxophone is also less common than the alto. Often you will see a high school jazz band and there will be more than seven alto saxophonists and you’ll be lucky to spot a single Tenor player. Therefore to add a bit of variety to the band and make yourself a little different from the crowd the Tenor saxophone is the best choice.

What’s so different?

Stating the obvious, the tenor saxophone is massive. It’s bigger than the alto and soprano saxophone so far bigger than a tiny Clarinet; be prepared to have to lug around a massive case when you take this monstrosity up. But it’s definitely worth it. The saxophone is actually far easier to play than the Clarinet requiring less effort for the higher notes and more effort for the low notes. It sounds different, obviously, but elements are identical to the Clarinet.

The fingering in the lower octaves differs slightly from the Clarinet so it is worth getting a fingering sheet when you first start playing the saxophone. Up the octave the fingering for the Saxophone is similar to the Clarinet. The main difference that needs to be taken into account is your embouchure (the way your mouth fits around the reed and mouthpiece.) The saxophone requires more of the mouthpiece to go into your mouth than the Clarinet and it also requires a more relaxed facial posture. None of the tight-lipped and squeezing required by the Clarinet but more of a loose blowing. Other than these subtle differences it is more than easy for a Clarinetist to pick up the Tenor Saxophone.


· Work on your posture, the sax is a heavy instrument so seek advice from a teacher or fellow players on how to hold yourself when sitting or standing

· Invest in agood neck strap to make playing the instrument comfortable

· Practise often to avoid the squeaks and sound of blowing air that is common to new saxophonists

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    • criticalthinkerKS profile image

      criticalthinkerKS 5 years ago

      I also think it's a good idea because they both play on the same key so you don't have to learn a whole new one.

    • rockdresses profile image

      rockdresses 6 years ago from Turkey

      A very useful post! Thanks a lot for your brilliant sharing! Vote up!

    • Rawlo94 profile image

      Rawlo94 6 years ago from Cheshire

      They can be heavy, especially the Tenors :) Best bet if she's new to the saxophone is to spend a bit of money on a variety of books so she gets a wide range of pieces to play; it'll keep her interested and make it feel less like a chore.

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      My daughter is in her first year at high school and has opted to play the saxophone. She has to practice at home several hours per week. An excellent tip you give on ensuring that you invest in a good neck support, because it is a very heavy instrument to hold.