If your clarinet sounds airy, it is due to air leaking out which can be caused by poor embouchure or a mechanical issue with the clarinet.
Playing and listening to the clarinet can be such a satisfying experience thanks to the beautiful tones and melodies that it produces. Shortly after I bought my clarinet and started to play, everything was going smoothly, well until it wasn’t. My clarinet began to produce an airy sound which made me panic a little bit that maybe my clarinet was spoilt. After I took it to a repair technician, I was told my clarinet was okay which made me doubt my skills as a player. I consulted my teacher and she gave me a couple of pointers on why my clarinet sounded airy.
Why does your clarinet sound airy?
An issue with the mouthpiece
If your clarinet sounds airy, the first thing you should suspect as the problem is the mouthpiece. Mouthpieces come in a variety of options, some provided by the clarinet manufacturer while some brands are hand-made, mostly used by professionals. Mouthpieces come in different shapes. If the mouthpiece is very open, meaning that the tip of the mouthpiece tilts too far away from the tip of the reed, an airy sound can occur. Your clarinet may also sound airy if the mouthpiece is warped, cracked, or chipped.
Embouchure refers to how a player uses the muscles of the mouth to play a wind instrument, such as the clarinet. One of the proper embouchure techniques while playing the clarinet is to make a firm seal around the mouthpiece using your lips to prevent air from leaking out, which might produce an airy sound. Biting the mouthpiece as you play will also make your clarinet sound airy since it will alter how the reed can vibrate causing air to leak out.
Reed strength and quality
As a clarinet player, choosing the right reed can significantly impact how your clarinet sounds. It is important to realize that your ability as a player is not determined by a higher reed strength, but by finding a reed strength that works for you depending on your clarinet’s mouthpiece. If the strength of the reed is too high for the mouthpiece, the clarinet will sound airy. On the same note, a reed that is warped or has not been adjusted properly can make the clarinet sound airy.
Slow or weak breath support
While playing the clarinet, slow or weak breath support leads to inconsistent reed vibration which makes the clarinet sound airy. Adequate strength and speed of air going into the clarinet are necessary for good tone production.
Improper tongue position
Although proper tonguing might not be as exciting to learn as learning how to play higher and faster, it is important for achieving the right tones. Using a lower tongue position while playing decreases the airspeed, thus making your clarinet sound airy.
Clarinet mechanical issues
Sometimes your playing technique could be perfect but your clarinet sounds airy simply because there is something wrong with the instrument. This could happen if perhaps one of the keys is leaking. In this case, the pad or spring may need to be replaced. An airy sound can also be produced if there is a crack at a particular range of the instrument.
Overplaying the reed
Overplaying the reed wears it out too fast, understandably so. If the reed is worn out, your clarinet won’t stop producing an airy sound therefore the only solution would be to put a new reed on the mouthpiece.
Often understated but quite common, fatigue could be another reason your clarinet sounds airy. When the player’s mouth gets tired it is common to lose the proper embouchure resulting in an airy sound. So if you play the clarinet for too long and it produces an airy sound, have a rest first and see if things change.
How to fix an airy clarinet tone?
Luckily, an airy clarinet is not something to worry about and once you figure out the problem, finding the solution is quite easy. Let’s go over some of the ways you can stop or prevent your clarinet from sounding airy.
Fix your embouchure. Without a doubt, this had to be my first remedy since an incorrect embouchure is the most common cause of an airy clarinet tone. While playing, position your mouth well and make a perfect seal around the mouthpiece to prevent air from leaking out. Also, avoid biting the mouthpiece as you play.
Below are some other common clarinet embouchure mistakes that you should avoid:
|Putting your tongue on the reed||This prevents the reed from vibrating properly.|
|Inadequate facial strength||This leads to saliva coming out the corners of the mouth while playing.|
|Turning your lip out||Creates discomfort by causing the reed to vibrate the player’s lip.|
|Puffing out cheeks||It affects embouchure and tone.|
Ensure proper air support while playing. It is important to ensure that you use the right strength and speed of air, that allows the reed to vibrate consistently. If you suspect that slow or weak breath support might be the problem, you can consult with your teacher to give you tips for improving breath support. It also takes practice to be perfect at it.
Check the mouthpiece for issues. Check that the mouthpiece is angled properly from the tip of the reed. It shouldn’t be angled too far from the tip of the clarinet’s reed. If you also notice that the mouthpiece is warped, chipped, or cracked it may be time to have it repaired or get a new one.
Check if there is a problem with the instrument. A mechanical issue such as leaking keys or a crack leads to an airy sound. Air testing the upper joint is one way to check for leaks. Simply close all the holes on the joint and then use your right hand to prevent air from coming out the bottom end. There is a leak if you can hear air moving once you blow into the top of the joint. If the issue is a crack, take your clarinet to a repair technician to fix it for you.
Choose the proper reed strength. Use a lower strength reed or learn how to break in and adjust reeds.
Do not be alarmed if your clarinet sounds airy as this is quite common. Just look out for the reasons stated above and fixing the problem will be quite easy.
Why does my clarinet produce an airy tone?
This could be caused by air leaking out due to poor embouchure or a mechanical issue with the clarinet.
Can I fix a cracked mouthpiece?
Yes, you can, but replacing it would be a better option.
How do I check for leaking keys on my clarinet?
Close all the holes on the joint and then use your right hand to prevent air from coming out the bottom end. There is a leak if you can hear air moving once you blow into the top of the joint.