I am starting to study the clarinet and have been given some sax music. As both instruments are in B-flat, if I use the clarinet to play the sax music: what must I be aware of? are there octaves differences etc.?

  • Are you 100% sure you've been given tenor sax or soprano sax music? The most common sax is alto sax, and it's typically in E flat, not B flat. Baritone sax is also in E flat.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 4, 2020 at 14:29
  • 2
    No, tenor sax (in B-flat) is every bit as common as E-Flat alto.
    – Duston
    Dec 4, 2020 at 15:25
  • Given that clarinet has a range of more than 3 octaves, to a tenor's round 2 1/2, and both play off the treble clef, so you should find, most songs having around two octaves maximumrange, that you can play - albeit 1 or 2 octaves higher, depending on the key - and your capability.
    – Tim
    Dec 4, 2020 at 16:12
  • @Duston - This is not my experience in concert band or when listening to jazz music - the alto sax always had the most players among sax types in all 3 school concert bands I was in, and whenever I see a sax player in a jazz quartet, it's almost always an alto sax player.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 5, 2020 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


If the sax music you have is written for an instrument in B-flat (tenor or soprano) then you can play it on a B-flat clarinet with no problems. Note, if the music is intended for tenor sax then it's going to sound an octave higher on clarinet. You might want to play some of it an octave lower where it's possible and you think it's musically appropriate.
If you had music written for a sax in E-flat (alto or baritone) then you would need to transpose it down a perfect fifth.

  • Hey, you left out bass sax! :-) Dec 4, 2020 at 21:17

It is true that the standard clarinet in B flat can cover a lot of tenor pieces. They are both written in B-flat, which means you won't have to transpose your sheet music. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The sounding range differs by an octave. When you read the same note on a B-flat clarinet written for tenor sax, you'll play a note that is an octave higher. Up to you if you want to play the notes as they are written (but an octave higher) or as they sound (so you play every note an octave lower than it is written).

  2. The ranges differ. A tenor sax plays from a sounding Ab2 to roughly E5 (you can go higher with overtones) whereas a B-flat clarinet without extra low keys can only reach a concert pitch D3, a tritone higher. It is able to play higher though. So if your tenor piece features notes lower than a written E above central C, you won't be able to play it on the clarinet at the same pitch as the tenor sax, but you can still play the whole piece an octave higher.

  3. The register keys differ. A tenor sax has a register key that transposes by an octave. This puts the 'break' between written C#5 and D5, whereas in the clarinet, the register transposes by a twelve, and has the break at a written Bb4 to B4. Pieces written for clarinet normally take crossing the break in mind, but there's no guarantee in a tenor sax piece. This means that you must check if your tenor piece doesn't cross the break in quick scales (unless you're very proficient of course).

If you check the score using these tips you can check if it's possible for you to play the piece. Good luck!


You'll have no trouble. The range (of written notes) on the clarinet goes lower and higher than that of the sax. Both Tenor and clarinet (and soprano sax) are in B-Flat, so that won't be an issue either.

  • Thank you for your reply. It says bflat at the top of all the music that I have been given so I assume that it is a tenor sax. Dec 4, 2020 at 15:15
  • 1
    The clarinet goes a fair bit higher than tenor, but certainly not lower. Tenor wins by around a fifth.
    – Tim
    Dec 4, 2020 at 16:17
  • Tenor goes lower in pitch, but written on the page the clarinet is lower. That's my point. I consider "sounds the same" and "be able to play it as written" as two separate issues.
    – Duston
    Dec 4, 2020 at 16:55
  • Hello to everyone who answered me. I now understand. Dec 5, 2020 at 20:51
  • @williamstuart You should accept (the tick icon) whichever answer helped you the most.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 6, 2020 at 16:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.