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Clarinet Space
by Kyle Coughlin

Why does my clarinet squeak?

The clarinet is capable of producing a beautiful tone, and beginners can learn to make the instrument sound very good at an early stage of their development. But what about those nasty squeaks? The saxophone is capable of squeaking too, but no other instrument produces harsh, high squeaks like the clarinet.

Basically, squeaking occurs when the air does not move properly through the instrument. There are many reasons why can happen. Here is a checklist of things to do to prevent squeaking.

Check your clarinet:

Make sure you have a good reed.

If your reed is chipped or cracked or broken, it won’t vibrate properly and can produce a squeak. Also, if the reed is warped, it will not sit properly on the mouthpiece, allowing air to leak and opening up the possibility of squeaks. Use a good, flat reed holder to store your reeds when you are not playing.

Play on the proper strength reed.

If your reed is too light or too hard for you and your mouthpiece, it will force you into bad habits that can produce a squeak. Don't be mislead by the belief that if you play a harder reed, you will be a better clarinetist. Clarinet mouthpieces are made with specific reed strengths in mind. Many student mouthpieces are designed to work with reed strengths of #2 to #3 1/2.

Make sure your reed is centered on the mouthpiece.

The tip of the reed should be a tiny bit lower than the tip of the mouthpiece. If you look straight at the clarinet mouthpiece, you should be able to see just a hairline of the mouthpiece above the reed. If it’s too high or too low, it will be difficult to get a consistent sound. Also, make sure that the reed is centered in the middle of the mouthpiece, because if it is too far to one side or the other, a squeak can occur.

Confirm that your instrument is in good working condition.

If there are any leaks or places where the pads don’t completely cover the tone holes, then you are probably going to squeak. If you are not sure about the condition of your instrument, ask your teacher or consult a good repairman.

Check your playing:

Cover the tone holes completely.

If one of your fingers does not cover the appropriate tone hole, the air leaks out and a squeak will result. Watch out for your right hand fingers, especially your low G finger -- that tone hole is significantly larger than the others. Also, watch out for your left hand thumb hole -- it is also large, and if your thumb slides off slightly, you can produce a big squeak!

No biting!

A firm embouchure is very important to producing a good clarinet sound, but avoid using too much jaw pressure. If you bite into the reed, you will squeak. Keep your bottom lip over your bottom teeth. Also, keep your cheeks inward -- puffing out your cheeks makes it much harder to control the air flow and creates the potential for lots of squeaks.

Tonguing too hard can cause squeaking as well, especially if your reed is not properly set on the mouthpiece. Articulate as lightly as possible and use the tip of your tongue at the tip of the reed.

If you blow too hard and fail to use a firm embouchure, you can squeak. Playing the clarinet requires a lot of air, but if you push too much air through the instrument without guiding it with a proper embouchure, you might squeak.

Avoid putting too much of the mouthpiece in your mouth.

Typically, you should have approximately 1/4 of an inch of the mouthpiece in your mouth. If you use much more than that, the reed becomes hard to control and you can squeak very easily.

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