When clarinetists are just getting started with their new instruments, they often encounter problems with their sound. (I made some of these mistakes myself when first starting out!)
This article will help you troubleshoot sound problems that are common among beginning clarinetists. Some of these problems include a wet or “spitty” sound, a raspy or airy sound, an inability to play low notes, and a clarinet that won’t play anything at all.
Table of Contents
1. Why Does My Clarinet Sound Wet Or Spitty?
It is likely that your clarinet has moisture built up on the inside of the mouthpiece, barrel, and joints. This excess moisture will interfere with making a clear and pleasant sound with your clarinet.
All you need to do in most cases is to run a fresh cleaning swab through the instrument a few times, and the spitty sound should clear up.
- Make sure to take the reed off before doing so, and put the reed back on properly before playing.
Do Clarinets Have Spit Valves?
Woodwind instruments like clarinets do not have spit valves like brass instruments. This is why you need to swab out your instrument frequently.
Some players need to swab their clarinets midway through a rehearsal as well as when the instrument is put away.
2. Why Does My Clarinet Sound Airy Or Raspy?
Airy or raspy sounds can come from a variety of sources. The most common and easiest to fix is a poor embouchure (the way the facial muscles and mouth are held while playing).
Your embouchure needs to form a complete seal around the mouthpiece. If any air is escaping out of the corners of your mouth while you play, you will produce an airy, raspy, weak sound.
Instrument maintenance issues could also cause an airy or raspy sound. If your pads are not sealing properly, you will hear air escaping.
You may need to have your instrument adjusted by a qualified repair person.
3. Why Can’t I Play High Notes?
In general, the low register on the clarinet is easier to play. High notes require some experience and special techniques.
One of the easiest fixes is to get a harder reed for your clarinet. If you are playing on a 1 ½ or a 2, it will be next to impossible to play any high notes well. Try upgrading to at least a 2 ½.
As always, your embouchure and breath support will determine whether you can play high notes.
Make sure that you are holding your clarinet at the appropriate angle, tighten your embouchure without clamping down, and keep your chin flat. Avoid puffing out your cheeks.
Correct Embouchure Formation:
You may need help from an experienced friend or teacher to tell you what you are doing wrong before you can play high notes.
4. Why Can’t My Clarinet Play Any Low Notes?
It is much more common to have trouble playing high notes than low notes. However, if you can’t get into the low register, try these tips.
The easiest way to fix this problem is by correcting your embouchure and breath support.
Frequently, beginning clarinetists “choke up” too much on the mouthpiece and reed so that they can’t make the right sound in the low register. Try pulling the instrument out of your mouth a little bit at a time until you can get the low notes out.
Focus on breath support from the diaphragm.
- If the playing adjustments don’t work, you may have a mechanical problem on your hands. It is possible that your register key, G-sharp key, or another key on the upper joint is leaking.
It is also possible that your bridge key (the key that connects the upper and lower joint) is not working or is incorrectly assembled.
Fixing this problem could be as simple as adjusting the instrument, tightening a screw, or replacing a spring. An experienced player, band director, or instrument repair technician should be able to help.
Correctly Assembling the Bridge Key:
5. What To Do If My Clarinet Sounds Flat?
If your clarinet is flat, your band director or teacher may ask you to tune the instrument by pushing the barrel in tighter, shortening the instrument length.
When you have already pushed the barrel in as far as it will go and you are still playing flat, there are several steps you can take to remedy the situation.
Bringing an instrument in from the cold can often cause it to play flat. For this reason, many band directors don’t tune the group together until their players have fully warmed up.
“Voicing” is essential for playing in tune. This is the vowel sound that your mouth and throat are forming while you play. Many beginning clarinetists try to play on an “ah” or an “oo” sound, but for best results, you should be playing on a long “e.” Making the “e” sound with your mouth and throat will keep your tongue high, raising your pitch appropriately.
Posture is another huge factor. Clarinetists need to sit up straight and hold their instruments at a 25- to 40-degree angle from their bodies. If you slouch, you are likely to play flat!
If you are still dealing with a flat instrument despite having addressed all of these problems, you may want to buy a shorter barrel for your clarinet.
6. What To Do If Your Clarinet Doesn’t Make Any Sound At All
A number of things could be going wrong in this situation. The most common is that your reed is not on the mouthpiece correctly.
The reed should be lined up with the tip of the mouthpiece, matching its curve. If it is slipped down too far, it will not be able to vibrate when you blow across it and no sound will come out.
If you are biting down too hard on the mouthpiece or pressing on the reed, you probably won’t be able to produce a sound.
- Try loosening your embouchure (but keeping it controlled) and concentrating on blowing a steady column of air with diaphragm support.
You may be using too hard of a reed for a beginner. Try getting a 1 ½ or 2 if you can’t get a sound out of your clarinet. As you develop your lip and mouth strength, you will be able to use harder reeds.
Correcting Sound Issues
These practical tips should give you a good starting point for correcting your clarinet’s sound issues. Starting out with the correct technique is a must in order to avoid picking up bad habits that will be difficult to shed later on.
Starting with correct posture, embouchure, and reed placement may save you some unnecessary trouble down the road!
It is a great idea to receive some in-person instruction from a teacher or experienced friend when you are just starting out.