Tenor Vs. Alto Sax Embouchure: 8 Tips To Help You Succeed

tenor vs alto sax embouchure

Alto players often learn to switch to tenor sax at some point in their careers. 

It’s a nice step and gives them something new to try. 

But in the switching, one of the parts people struggle with is the slight difference in embouchure or mouth shape. 

This question is a common enough topic; I decided to ask some skilled sax players for information on tenor vs. alto sax embouchure. 

The tenor saxophone’s embouchure is looser than the alto sax. Players will often need to roll their lower lip, relax their muscles a bit, and use more air (but slower) to get the tenor to sound. 

Look ahead for detailed tips to help you get playing right away. 

Tips For A Better Tenor Saxophone Embouchure After Playing Alto

Here are the 8 tips I recommend to people looking to tackle the embouchure issue with the tenor sax. 

Attempt each of these tips one at a time. See if it makes your sound better, and if it does, keep that habit going. 

If you’re still not where you want to be, layer in other successful tips on top of each to build the sound you want. 

If you’d like to learn more about the two instruments, check out our detailed comparison on the tenor vs. alto sax

Roll Your Lower Lip

When playing the saxophone, your lower lip is rolled under the mouthpiece. But for the larger instruments, you may have more success by rolling the bottom lip out a little more. 

You still want the lip under the mouthpiece, but moving it out some may allow the reed to vibrate easier. 

Less Tension

Overall, tenor sax embouchures require less tension in your muscles. 

Consider relaxing each part of your mouth shape a bit, including:

  • The corners of your mouth
  • Your chin
  • The lips themselves
  • Your jaw

More Air

One of the biggest differences overall in the tenor sax compared to the alto saxophone is the need for more air. 

Read our full list of tips on switching from alto to tenor saxophone in every aspect of the instruments. 

It’s not enough to make a big difference in the long run, but it’ll throw you off at first if you’re not prepared for it. 

Think about blowing more air and filling up a bigger space. 

No Teeth

Avoid putting your teeth on any saxophone mouthpiece for a proper sax embouchure, but some people suddenly fall into the bad habit of biting their tenor mouthpieces for some reason.

You get more control from using your lips rather than teeth, and it provides a better seal for air efficiency.  

Slower Air

Wait! Didn’t you just say more air a couple of tips ago?

Yes, I did, and both are true. 

You need to provide more air through your embouchure, but you also need to think about making it slower air or denser air. 

Forcing your air too much to make more air will actually end up blocking you up and stopping your sound. 

More air but slower air will allow the air to pass through and fill up the horn with a great sound. 

Open Up

Think about opening up all parts of your sound and body. 

Imagine a yawn and feel the soft pallet in your mouth to create more space. 

Relax your jaw a bit to make more room in your mouth. 

Imagine you’re trying to put an apple in your throat without letting it touch the sides of your throat to feel it open up. 

This mental work will help you make more air and slower air easier to create a better sound. 

Change Up Your Reed

If you’re getting a decent sound on your tenor but not for all notes, consider switching up your reed strength. 

Softer reeds tend to make bottom notes easier to play, while harder reeds make the top notes sing out more. 

Play Long Tones

If you’re doing all this work and getting some sound out, but it’s not quite what you want yet, it’s time to bust out the long tones. 

Play a Bb concert scale (so starting on your G), with each note being a whole note at a slow tempo or speed. 

Go up and down, and for each note, focus on getting a good tone in the beginning, middle, and end. 

Playing the scale will help you get the higher and lower notes more consistently, and the practice will help you get used to the feel of the tenor embouchure. 

Do I Need To Learn New Fingerings When Playing Tenor Sax From Alto Sax?

The saxophone family is easy to switch between because you don’t need to learn new fingerings every time. 

This is because the saxes are all transposing instruments, which means the notes they read aren’t the notes they play. 

It sounds like an extra step, but it makes it, so the music is easier to read, and it makes it, so you never have to relearn a sax fingering. 

A written G on the alto sax is played the same as a written G on the tenor sax, even though a G on the alto sounds like a Bb and the G on a tenor sounds like an F. 

Read more about why saxophones are transposing instruments by clicking the link. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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