Which Saxophone Is the Easiest To Play?

which saxophone is the easiest to play

When my students look into instruments for middle school, they often pick the saxophone, a popular wind instrument. 

But with so many types (14 in all, though 4 are the most common saxophones), they don’t know which one to pick. 

Usually, the choice isn’t available because it’s clear which is the easiest saxophone to play. 

The easiest saxophone to play is the alto saxophone. The alto sax is easy to make a sound on, easy to hold, has the most music available, and is the starter saxophone for most beginning bands. The tenor saxophone is almost as easy but not nearly as common as the first instrument. 

Read on for more details on why this musical instrument is the easiest in the saxophone family. 

Which Type Of Saxophone Is Easiest To Learn?

As mentioned above, the alto saxophone is the easiest to learn for reasons we’ll go into in the next section. 

But don’t just take my word for it. 

I’m married to a band director, a music teacher myself, and friends and colleagues with hundreds of other musicians, including saxophone professionals. 

Almost every single beginning band starts their saxophone players on the alto. 

Band teachers will switch some of their alto players onto tenor, especially if they’re interested in jazz music. 

A few bands start some on tenor if the student is interested or if they already have a tenor sax in the family. 

But in terms of ease and popularity, the alto is king (or queen!). 

Check out our detailed answer to what the most popular saxophones are

Why Is The Alto Sax Easy To Play?

Air Requirement

Of all the woodwind instruments, the alto sax is one of the best for breath control. 

The flute requires a lot of air; you essentially blow all your air out into nothing. 

The clarinet has a lot of back pressure and makes forcing air difficult for some. 

Saxophones have a great middle-ground, and the alto is in the perfect range for air. 

The tenor requires a little more, but not much. 

The soprano saxophone is like the clarinet, and the baritone saxophone uses a lot more. 

Even compared to a brass instrument, the alto sax wins in this area for ease.

Easy To Hold And Finger

Of the saxes, the alto is pretty light and easy for anyone to hold. 

The tenor is heavier, and the baritone is almost impossible for smaller hands to hold. 

Of course, the soprano saxophone is lighter, but it has a whole host of other issues. 

For more information, check out our article on the hardest saxophones to play.

The keys are all within easy reach of fingers too. 

Luckily, the saxophone fingerings are the same across all types of this woodwind family, so with practice comes a muscle memory applicable for all the others if you want to switch later. 

Simple Sound Production

Producing sound on your new instrument is one of the toughest parts of learning to play, so when an instrument is easy to “honk,” it helps it stand out. 

The alto saxophone is the easiest of the sax family to make a sound on. 

This is for two main reasons: better-designed mouthpieces and embouchure shape. 

Mouthpieces are hugely important, and many sax players have multiple mouthpieces to help them better play in different genres. 

A college sax player may have a different mouthpiece for classical music, concert bands, jazz bands, and marching bands. 

It seems like overkill, but saxophone mouthpieces make a difference

Check out our detailed article at the link for more information on why this is. 

Alto saxophones are so common in beginners, many saxophone manufacturers make well-designed mouthpieces specifically to help new players in creating sound and playing right away. 

These mouthpieces for beginner saxophones even have lower saxophone costs.

The embouchure shape is the shape of your mouth as you play. The closer the embouchure is to how your lips and mouth normally sit, the easier it is. 

The soprano sax pulls the embouchure in too much to be easy, and the baritone sax is a little too loose. 

The alto and tenor saxes don’t require much adjustment of your natural lip shape, just a tightening when you blow. 

Of course, the ease of the instrument doesn’t matter when you play on a junky sax. It’ll never sound good if it doesn’t work well. 

Avoid these issues by checking out our review of the best saxophone brands with examples and videos to help you pick the right sax for you. 

Many Models

Listening to great models on an instrument is key to improvement in the long run. 

The alto has a ton of famous performers, and there is a number out there who will even play easier music to help show what the alto should sound like in an accessible way. 

A tenor saxophone player has the same advantage here, but the alto is usually the first type played. 

Many Method Books

Learning a difficult instrument requires someone to start at the beginning. 

If there are great books and videos out there providing support and exercises with each step, the hard instrument becomes suddenly easier. 

Alto and, to a lesser extent, the tenor has many method books and helpful resources for the brand new player. 

Soprano and bari don’t have as many, and most resources are for those with experience playing the other types first. 

Types Of Saxophone By Difficulty

Here’s a quick chart to help give you an idea of how hard each type of sax in this family of instruments is. 

Types Of SaxophoneDifficulty Level 1-10 (10 being hardest)Biggest Challenge
Soprano8Making a sound, tight embouchure
Alto2Fingering (these are the same across all types)
Tenor3Slightly more air required
Baritone (Bari)5Harder to hold, more air required

Should I Learn Alto Or Tenor Saxophone?

If you’re a beginner saxophone player, you may notice the alto and tenor are pretty much the same on my list. 

Which should you play then? 

If you’re asking as a middle schooler or on behalf of a middle school student, go with what your band director suggests: the alto usually. 

If you’re a teen or older, pick the one you’re more interested in. 

The exception here is if you already have a tenor or alto sax on hand. In these cases, play the one you have and save some money. 

Remember, the fingerings and playing technique transfer across all types of saxes, so it’s no problem to learn a bit on one type and then switch later. 

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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