oboe to tenor sax??


Cuz you can’t march with an oboe… so I have to switch to Tenor Sax… is Tenor hard… and are there any tips?


To start, oboe is much more difficult than Tenor; to master, both are rough, but the difficulties lie in different directions.

Oboe, of course, is almost entirely a Classical instrument (Paul McCandless and Yusef Lateef notwithstanding). Learning/memorizing the repertoire takes up the bulk of your time, along with making your own reeds, and technical studies. The upside to all this work, however, is that once you do become accomplished, you have an excellent chance of finding work at a fairly high level. There simply are not that many excellent oboists.

Tenor sax, however, is a Jazz, Rock, and/or Blues instrument. The bulk of your time will be in transcribing solos, learning tunes complete with harmonic changes for improvisation, practicing/jamming with groups, recordings, or software designed for the purpose of developing your ear-to-hand dexterity. Almost secondarily (after the initial learning period at any rate), you will be doing purely technical work, reading music, etc. Get used to listening to professionals now. Start with Michael Brecker, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. With these three, you can’t go wrong. Once you master the instrument, while there is much more competition on tenor than oboe, there is also much more work as long you can solo well. Improvisation is a must for any saxophonist; you will work as steadily as your ability in this area allows.

Do not use a “stock” mouthpiece (like a Bundy or Brilhart). Get something like a metal Berg Larsen, Otto Link or, if you can afford it, an original Dave Guardala (not a copy and probably ebay; very expensive, but easily resold if you quit). Some of the newer mouthpieces like Aaron Drake and Saxscape are very good. Get the best horn you can: Selmer Mark VI is the standard and discontinued years ago, but Selmer’s more recent Reference 54 is excellent, though still expensive. P. Mauriat makes a decent cheaper tenor. If have have the slightest inkling of continuing, do not get a new student or intermediate horn. These are the two levels that you will just be wasting money and lots of it. Pro horns can always be sold for as much as you paid or more; that cannot be said of beginner horns and even more money is wasted on intermediate horns. FWIW.

Hope this helps,



I’m probably just going to rent… but I have to start out afresh for marching band :stuck_out_tongue:


Okay, then how about renting a better horn (hopefully with an option to buy)?

If you can rent a Selmer or P. Mauriat, great. If not those, then maybe you can rent a pro-level Yamaha? They’re a bit bright, but they’ve come a long way and now they have their metallurgy right and keys don’t bend. You really should try to get a pro mouthpiece, however. Even more than the horn (all things being equal), this will make the biggest difference in your playing and progress.

Be really careful in marching band, it can beat up a horn the worst of almost anything.

Again FWIW,



Thank You! What’s FWIW?? And I’m probably going to get a Selmer, but any idea what level tenor? Intermediate? Cuz some of my friends told me to get intermediate… but I’m starting…


FWIW= For What It’s Worth.

The level of horn rented depends on your level of commitment. An intermediate tenor (any brand) is “usually” better than a beginner’s tenor (I’ve seen some really bad intermediate horns- worse than many beginner horns) and, if you’re a new player, I’d take your sax teacher or the best tenor player you know to help you judge before you rent. Pay them to go, if need be. Ideally, you’ll go to a store where you have a choice of Selmers if possible; just as in oboes, there can be a huge variation from tenor to tenor, even in same makes and models. Again, if you’re serious, get the absolute best horn you can. You will lose the most money buying an intermediate horn (but renting should be better). While ideally, you could get a pro mouthpiece and whatever horn you end up with together, you may, in this case, try to get a mouthpiece first, so that you can better judge the horn.

A couple good mouthpiece sizes (not so large that you won’t be able to control them, but large enough so that your sound can progress) are the Berg Larsen 95/1 or 100/1 (the 100/1 is slightly larger) and the Otto Link 6*. The Berg will be a bit raspier, the Link a bit smoother. Many pros have played these.




Erm… How do you form your Embouchure? ;D


Compared to oboe, it’s a cinch. First, the top only seals off the mouthpiece (but do not try to get the top lip over the top teeth. Yes, I did know an oboist who tried to learn tenor that way.) Next, the bottom lip (usually) forms over the teeth so that the mouthpiece/reed is resting on that (rather than the teeth). I say “usually” because some players keep the lip more to the front, almost like a pout. The reed still is not resting on the teeth, it’s just that the cushion is pushed outwards. (Interestingly, Coltrane used both embouchures, perhaps because of his notorious dental problems.)

Hope this helps,



I just realized, I never told you about reeds. Basically there are two types: American and French. The French has a thicker heart and a thinner tip, the American is the reverse. One isn’t really “better” per se than the other; players generally get used to one and prefer it. The cane is of equal quality. Some people have argued that Rico, as a brand, has the best cane because they can afford to buy the most, others have said that Vandoren is better because they own their fields and therefore can control quality better. Nice arguments but the only thing I can attest to is that quality of any brand of reed I’ve used has fluctuated wildly over the years. That said, I have had luck with Rico Jazz select Unfiled reeds (an American-cut). When I tried French-cut reeds, I used Vandorens, either regular or Java (this last actually kind of a hybrid) and they were okay but I found them hard to modify by clipping or filing and when they wore out, there was no slow “dying” period, they just hit a wall and stopped working (which was disconcerting on gigs).

Don’t expect to use every reed in a box. Quality within the box will also vary considerably. And FWIW, I’ve found that though there are only five reeds in a Rico Jazz select Unfiled tenor reed box, I get much better percentage (often four usable reeds) out of them then the box of 25 reeds in a regular box of Ricos (often four, occasionally less, twice zero).

It is best to break in sax reeds (just like oboe reeds). Start out soaking for about five minutes, play them for about 5-10 minutes the first day and second day. After that add about five minutes for the next four days. At that point, they should be broken in.

Hope this helps,



You should probably be aware that in most high school level marching sets the saxophones, including alto, get fairly simple parts. Most marching pieces give them a lot of repetitive quarter notes. This should at least help you adapt.

It’s easy to get a lot of noise out of a tenor so I would spent a lot of my practice turning that noise into smooth sound.


Well, everyone’s experience is different. When I was in marching band in high school, I didn’t see many quarter notes on tenor or baritone. When I taught marching band, I didn’t get arrangements with repetitive quarter notes for saxes (the trombones probably came closer to that, but it really depended on the arrangement).

Tenors (and saxes in general) can be powerful instruments (and should be capable of that for most types of contemporary music. If by “smooth” you mean “quiet”, well, saxes should be able to demonstrate a wide dynamic range. If by smooth, you mean something like what has come to be known as a classical sound, well that’s really great for, um, classical, but it probably won’t get you a steadily paying gig (unless you’re fortunate enough to get a job in a symphony, but then, symphonies generally don’t hire steady saxophonists and I know of one orchestra that is still having clarinetists double on sax. Given the paucity of orchestral compositions with sax parts and the poor state of the economy, in some ways, I can’t say as I blame them).

Even in contemporary music, one has to allow for stylistic difference, even within the same genre. Someone like Stan Getz, great player as he was, would have sounded really silly trying to sub in a band like the Brecker Brothers (for Michael Brecker) or Tower of Power (for Lenny Pickett). Brecker would have sounded really out of place if he had been alive to play in Tommy Dorsey’s band. I can’t begin to imagine what John Coltrane could have sounded like playing a 'cool" samba. Yet, Coltrane had a deep abiding respect for Stan Getz who excelled at that style of playing. And all of these players would have to be considered jazz musicians, and great players at that. In fact, any of Woody Herman’s original “four brothers” (tenor saxophonists Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward [or Al Cohn, who also played in the section instead of Steward], and bari player Serge Chaloff) from his second herd would have sounded very odd in any of the bands that Herman led in his later years.

One of the problems that young serious players have (on saxes, but also trumpets, trombones, and to a lesser extent, other instruments) is that as their sound develops and gets stronger, they can stick out from the other less serious, under-practiced band members. This can produce a serious situation wherein the director will try to tone down the aspiring musician, while (hopefully) being cognizant of the need to allow the player to continue developing. It can be a bit like walking on eggshells. But I’m not sure that you’re speaking of this type of situation either.

Can you give an example of someone who feel sounds “smooth”? This would certainly help with understanding your use of the term.



I had a seriously close minded, simple band instructor who generally stuck to what he thought to be the “classic” marches. He was so obsessed with them that we tended to play simple marching pieces even in concert sets. As an alto saxophone I got stuck playing a LOT of quarter notes, he actually drove me from band, which I regret because in middle school I was playing on tempo concerto pieces with an alto sax. I guess what I’m saying is that my perception may be a little bit skewed.

When I say smooth I hardly mean classical, the tenor saxophone always appealed to me as really chill sounding jazz/blues instrument. My use of smooth generally is used in the jazz sense of the word, and smooth can definitely be loud without being ostentatious. I hope that cleared that up.


Yes, that definitely cleared it up. We’re on the same page.

Sorry about your experience in Marching Band. I’d never been crazy about it either, but I never got bugged enough to quit (though I could have been convinced to quit just marching band, except it was required for the rest of the program). Oddly, the only place we ever did a “classic march” (and very few at that) was in Concert Band; we never did them in Marching Band. There, we did almost entirely Pop and Rock arrangements.


Check this out, I think you’ll like it. Wait until the piece speeds up and Brecker takes his solo. He may have been the best:


Okay, I’m doing pretty well, and can actually play every note but ONE in a piece… the problem is, I can’t play anything lower than the low D, and sometimes miss the low E, and instead go up an octave… and I know I should drop my lip, but even when I do, the D is still high, but I sometimes hit the low D, but then it wavers around and then pops back up…


Now consider it’s been 8 years since I played and most of my experience was with altos, however, when you drop your lower lip what you get is more vibe from the reed this causes a loss in sound quality. Instead, try to open up your throat a little bit. Outland would know better I’m sure, but that is how I was able to hit the lowest notes on the alto.


Chances are pretty good that it is not “you” causing the problem (it could be; Fatstrings is right, dropping the lower lip isn’t great for the sound, but it should help you produce the low notes if nothing else is the matter with the horn. Just don’t get used to playing that way  ;D). Can we assume that you’re borrowing the horn (from your school)? If that is the case and the horn has been well-used (and probably out of regulation), often the low Eb key can collect all sorts of nasty stuff and the pad can be covered with this or even rotting out. Get near a strong light and open that key to see if the pad is clean or even damaged (often the pad will even have a hole in the shape of the tone hole). If there is junk in there, get some neatsfoot oil and some Q-tips to clean it out. If there is a hole, the pad has to be replaced; there is no way to “doctor” it.

Another problem you may be having (and actually, from your description, this sounds a bit more like it), is the regulation of the octave keys (as on oboe, you actually have two keys/pads, though only one key to press. The switch is accomplished by mechanism and is invisible to the player). Thankfully and almost always, if this is the issue, you can watch to see if the octave key on the neck closes all the way when playing low (check the pad for holes also). The reason you may be able to play almost to the D is because the D (and the E, for that matter) are far enough down the horn to reach a kind of “critical mass” with regard to leaks and this makes anything lower extremely difficult to hit. You should take the horn to a repair shop to get it adjusted. Some people might just bend the metal close to the octave key tone hole on the neck, but bending will stress the metal and you’ll likely eventually have the hassle again.

Hope this helps,


An alternate take on what I sent yesterday:

And something to aim for:


Erm… a quick reply will work here… my sax’s octave key is leaking, the one by the neck. When I play a middle D (1,2,3 1,2,3 Octave Key) it sounds really airy, but when my friend presses down the octave pad on the neck, it gets way better, so I know it’s the switching of the octave keys that’s making it bad… and for some reason, the airy sound is only on a D.


The safest way to fix it (so as to avoid bending the key) is going to be to get it to a good repairman who will regulate it w/o bending. This is a common problem and should not be more $$ than whatever the bench minimum is for the repairman. If I were you, I wouldn’t attempt a fix myself. I’ve known several to try this and either make the situation worse or get the horn apart, only to find themselves unable to put it back together. Either of these scenarios can cost big bucks to rectify.

Good Luck,



I have no idea about the sax, I play trumpet… But definitely stay with the oboe for concert season