Usually when a young student is asked to play a saxophone other than alto, they are handed a tenor or bari, some reeds, and just start playing the horn. This tends to continue for many even into a college playing career. You get put into the tenor or bari chair in your concert band and you just go. They are all just saxophones, right?
Well, not so much.....
I was reminded of this thought process this very afternoon. As a mostly classical player (at the moment), most of my literature is on alto and therefore I tend to have my alto in my hands when I do fundamental work (i.e. scales, long tones, etc). I do spend some time doing long tones on my other instruments but that's about it. Today, since the piece I was going to be working on was Cunningham's Trigon (a piece for tenor), I decided to just use my tenor to do my daily routine of scale work. It was a struggle. I was struggling to play harmonic minor scales two notes per beat with the metronome on 60....and WITH THE MUSIC RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!! It sounded weird. It felt weird. It made me realize how little mastery of the tenor I actually have. Now, this is a subject I have been preaching for some time but I don't guess I had fully internalized the extent of how much one needs to take this approach.
Every type of saxophone requires a TOTALLY different approach and mindset. Further more, fundamental work...and lots of it...is required on every horn you play; not just your primary one.
I thought this was something I already understood. From a standpoint of sound concept, I take radically different approaches for each instrument. Gear is different, the sound in my head is different, pretty much my entire approach to the horn is different. From what I learned today, that is simply not enough.
Simply put, one must learn each variant of the saxophone as if each is a unique instrument. When guys who primarily play alto start playing tenor (even at a high level) they tend to use the same type mouthpiece and physical approach as they do for alto. Invariably they end up with a weak, stuffy, sound (S80 C*, in my opinion, isn't the answer on tenor, kids). Ditto with baritone...plus, on baritone the low register tends to sound 'honky' and 'reedy' due to the player not understanding the amount of air needed to make a bari really sing. Soprano? Intonation and control nightmare.
The point in all of this is to give each instrument the same love and affection as you do your primary instrument; even if it's just every other day or a few days per week. You'll 100% guaranteed be a better saxophonist for it and who knows, you may learn to love the other horns even more!
Feel free to let me know what you think!