I currently play tenor sax but would like to pick up clarinet in the near future. How difficult would learning to play Clarinet be, given my experience as a tenor and long time piano player? How much will my knowledge of Sax help?

11 Answers 11


Disclaimer: I’m a fellow sax player and have more or less never blown into a clarinet.

As you probably know a clarinet does not have an octave key (it has a key which makes the clarinet jump to the fifth of the octave/twelfth instead). Because of that, you shouldn’t expect fingerings between saxophone and clarinet to be related at all.

Other than that, I’m guessing your embouchure would be useful (at least in the medium — clarinets have a crazy range), as would your general dexterity and, obviously, your knowledge of music.

  • 2
    "Unrelated" is rather an overexaggeration. The shift of an octave plus a fifth should be pretty simple to get used to-- practically like reading an alto part with a tenor sax or vice versa. (disclaimer: I was a clarinetist who doubled on sax; but over the years I transposed Bb-Eb, Eb-Bb, C-Bb, A-Bb, Bb-A). Jan 3, 2014 at 12:34

My sister in law was playing sax, but needed to switch to clarinet to be accepted in our wind orchestra, since the sax was well covered but we needed clarinets. She used about six months before she felt good enough to start in the orchestra (her instructor felt she was ready sooner).


Given that most of the reed players I've worked with bring sax (tenor/alto/soprano) and a clarinet and often a flute, leads me to say it won't be too much of a problem. SOME of the fingering is the same, and the embouchure is similar. Since you have musical knowledge from playing piano as well, it will be quite an enjoyable, straightforward job. I'm often surprised when a sax player does not also play a clarinet.

  • From what I have learned, the fingerings are more similar between sax and flute, than it is to clarinet.
    – awe
    Jan 3, 2014 at 12:11

Practice long tones on just the mouthpiece and barrel with a tuner at first. You should produce a C# (concert). Your embouchure should be firmer, but don't bite. The chin should be stretched flat at all times and the jaw should never move. Basically: corners in, top lip stretched down, chin flat. The "smile" embouchure should be avoided, as should any upward muscle movement. (Think "in" and "down"). Once you are able to produce a steady tone consistently, start using the clarinet. When you start working on clarinet, first stay in the low register, without using the register key. Start on open "G" and work your fingers one at a time all the way down the clarinet so you can get a feel for where the holes are.
After a few weeks, you might be ready to start using the register key. An easy way to practice your tone here is to practice 12th exercises, fingering the nots in the chalumeau register and simply adding the register key. Try the exercises here: http://www.clarinetcloset.com/upperregister.html There are many other useful resources on this website as well. Good luck!


I played tenor sax for years in junior high and high school band. I learned several instruments in the interim, one of them being clarinet. It was probably the easiest to transition to from saxophone, as the fingering and the embouchure are both pretty similar. The mouthpiece is smaller, and so your embouchure will need to be a bit firmer/tighter than you're used to. Given your long history with music in general, the learning curve shouldn't be terribly sharp.


I've only played Alto Sax but I've played clarinet for a while, so I might be able to help. It was really easy to learn saxophone with all my years of clarinet practice, so I figure the other way around is the same, too. You should have no problems making sound because saxophones and clarinets have about the same mouthpiece: very few differences. However the fingerings are COMPLETELY different, and you'll need to adjust. Also, the octave key on clarinet is really a twelfth key.

Hope this helped.


I played the clarinet first and had a go on the saxophone. I found the saxophone a little more difficult to control because I needed to relax much more. It's all about the embouchure.

  • similar for me. As a clarinet player trying out tenor sax, I found the low notes on the sax needed more coaxing / control than with a clarinet : whereas on a clarinet it was the very high notes (above top C, bflat clarinet) which need coaxing / control
    – Angst
    May 13, 2022 at 12:43

One little quirk is that the lower register of a B flat clarinet plays exactly the same notes as an alto sax with the same fingerings. But the notes have different names!

So three fingers down is called G on a sax and C on a B flat clarinet but are actually the same note.

So sometimes I play sax parts on a clarinet, needing to think like sax. It works OK until you go above the B/E and open the speaker key, at which point confusion reigns!

  • 2
    It's because the clarinet is 'in Bb', while the alto is 'in Eb'. They're essentially playing the same thing, but transposing, 'cos that's what they both do, but in different keys.
    – Tim
    Feb 28, 2017 at 6:48

My dad (who passed away a few years ago at age 100) played so-called C=Melody Sax from before I was born till he was 90. At which point he decided to switch to Clarinet. He found the idea of a transposing instrument a bit daunting at first, but otherwise had no difficulties at all. The switch from overblowing at the octave to overblowing at the 12th didn't faze him, nor did adjusting the embouchure.

I'm guessing you'll have no problems at all, especially since the Tenor and the clarinet both have the same transposition. (Well, sort of.)


Clarinet and sax use basically the same playing technique. The 'similar but different' fingerings are a very minor issue, don't get hung up on it. You'll be OK. Go for it, as generations of woodwind players have before you!


In my case I've played clarinet for about 6 years and although I'm still playing it. In my jazz class my instructor had me move to tenor sax and I gotta say it is confusing bc eventho the notes are the same and some of the fingerings are in fact the same. The confusion comes when you try to play a note say for example concert B flat. On the Clairnet its six fingers down with a alternative key while on the tenor sax it's only the middle finger down on your left hand.

For mouth position wise it is a lot different. On the Clairnet you tight the corners of your mouth to play while on tenor you need to drop your jaw. Without dropping your jaw the notes will play as though you are pressing the octave eventho you are not. It takes a lot of practice and learning a whole different way to play

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