I have been playing tenor for 3 years now. I am very experienced, and have given lessons to new tenors for a while. However, a new alto asked if I could teach them. I told them I could, because even though the instruments are different, the fingerings are the same. I would just have to teach on their scale..

So am I right? I can teach this person and give them the same experience, because fingerings are the same?


2 Answers 2


Yes, though be sure to understand that there are some subtle differences in the embouchure that you might not be able to address. Make this clear to your student/s. Ideally, beginning students should study with the same instrument family (tenor with tenor, alto with alto etc), but in areas with limited teachers available this is totally fine. More people learning and playing music is always a good thing, have fun!

  • 1
    Sax players routinely double on all the sizes of sax, plus clarinet and even flute. The idea of different teachers for each size is bizarre! Do you have actual experience of this?
    – Laurence
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 15:00
  • 1
    Hi Laurence. Yes, I've taught professionally for several decades. I'm from a large city however, so maybe the fact that there are more options available makes a difference in what can be done. For an absolute beginner I would go with the same family-type whenever possible. Once the initial learning is done (say a year, depending on the student), it makes no appreciable difference. Commented May 27, 2016 at 19:09
  • Agreed with Laurence - different teachers for different saxes is a totally bizarre concept to me! Even more so at beginner level. Can I ask which large city hail - is this perhaps a US/UK difference?
    – Chris
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 21:35
  • Just to be clear, are we talking about individual study or group study? I'm assuming individual. Commented May 27, 2016 at 22:59

You can certainly teach one sax, even if you play a different one. In fact, an awful lot of sax players will possess and play at least a couple in the same band. Alto and Tenor are the most common.

The main problem is that Alto and Baritone are both E♭ instruments, while Soprano and Tenor are B♭. This is compensated for by use of transposed keys in the written music. And means that anything you play from the dots (on Tenor) will not sound in the same key as the student playing on Alto. So demonstrating will be a challenge. What the best players do is transpose at sight, in order to play the same notes as someone playing the 'opposite' instrument. Might be a golden opportunity to add to your armoury another sax - the Alto! The money from several lessons should pay for it. And it's probably going to come in useful for gigs, too !

In fact, a lot of the sax players I play with also 'double' on flute and clarinet, as the fingering is similar, - but not identical - and obviously the embouchures are different. But, more strings to their bows, so to speak, and teaching, well, why not? They're more than half way there.

  • Actually Soprano and Tenor are in B♭ and Alto and Baritone are in E♭. Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 19:21
  • @LarsPeterSchultz - thanks for that - I was confused!! It's taken 5 hrs to spot !
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 19:52

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