The clarinet is one of the most sophisticated yet versatile instruments that produce some of the most quality music in the industry today, and to make it sound as good as possible is a sacred duty that the clarinetist is endowed with. However, there are times when the clarinet may not sound at its best.
As a clarinetist, you need to always produce a clear tone with a bell-like quality that is pleasing to the ear. While you try to achieve different tonal variations and sounds, you completely want to avoid a spitty sound when playing the clarinet. That spitty sound can be very disturbing to the ear and can easily disrupt the unique sound quality produced by a clarinet.
There are several reasons why you may come across a spitty sound on your clarinet. The most common one is that saliva accumulates on the inner surface of your clarinet reed. Generally, the clarinet produces sound from the vibration of the reed. When saliva accumulates on top of the reed, the vibration pattern changes and the quality of the sound produced becomes worse than a dry reed.
How do clarinet reeds work and why does spit accumulate on the clarinet reeds?
The clarinet reeds are the thin, wooden pieces that you place on the clarinet mouthpiece using a ligature. The ligature is the round piece that goes over the clarinet mouthpiece and it is designed to hold your reed in place.
Whenever you blow into the clarinet mouthpiece, the clarinet reed vibrates to produce the unique bell-like sound that you hear when clarinetists play. In general, reeds vary in thickness and size. The thicker the reed and the higher the number, the harder it is to produce clarinet sounds and the harder it is to accumulate spit. Beginner clarinetists, therefore, are advised to start with a thinner reed with a lower number until they are comfortable to play on the thicker ones as they advance.
Like almost all woodwind instruments, the clarinet does not have a spit valve. This means that you will always get some condensation build up as you play. That is normal and is considered part of playing a wind instrument, including the clarinet. It is important to note that it is not saliva that directly accumulates on your clarinet reed but the vapors from your breath that condensate then builds up within different parts of your clarinet.
That said, the amount of spit that accumulates in your clarinet is often due to how your clarinet reed fits into the mouthpiece and how much warm air you blow into the clarinet when you are playing. There are two other reasons why you may also get a lot more sizzle into your clarinet other than any other player. The table below outlines these reasons and highlights a few insights on the same;
|Reasons why your clarinet sounds spitty||Rationale/Commentary|
|The Reed fits loosely into the mouthpiece||Ideally, ligature should be tight enough to stop the wandering of the reed and mouthpiece, but not too tight to stop the reed from vibrating. When it is loose, spit accumulates on the empty spaces hence a spitty sound, which can be very irritating|
|You have a very loose embouchure||If you have a very loose embouchure, the inside of your mouth becomes contorted and that results in the production of more saliva as you play. Unfortunately, most of that saliva goes down the mouthpiece hence a very spitty sound|
|Poor Air Support||If you do not have sufficient air speed, you will not be able to carry all the moisture further down your clarinet. In addition to that, slow air makes you play flat and all you may end up producing is a spitty sound|
How to eliminate the spitty sound on your clarinet
If you want to get rid of that spitty tone on your clarinet, you should do the following;
Method 1: Slurp it out
This may sound a little gross but it is the easiest fix when it comes to getting rid of the spitty sound on your clarinet. To do this, apply a lot of pressure to the clarinet reed and suck it out. To avoid feeling gross about it, you can think of the moisture inside your clarinet as a condensation build up and not saliva. That way, you can do it as fast as possible and get over and done with the process. Slurping it out can be very noisy and distractive, so you may want to do it in a quiet room away from a performance setting.
Method 2: Remove excess moisture from clarinet using a swab
Before you put the reed on your clarinet mouthpiece, wipe of all excess moisture. In general, the reed should be moist for better sound production and playability, but it shouldn’t be too wet. Along with that, you should ensure that the mouthpiece is completely dry on the outside and the inside. To do this, take a swab and clean out all the moisture you come across.
By cleaning out excess moisture from the clarinet, there is less of an opportunity of the moisture to travel into the clarinet mouthpiece, hence no spitty sound. Also, you should try and remove the moisture from your cheeks, up into your gum line and on your tongue, so that your mouth is slightly dry as you play. After doing this, do not lick the reed before you start playing. Instead, work with it as it is.
Method 3: Try a few breathing exercises and practice as often as you can
Before playing any wind instrument, it is important to have some breathing exercise. Try sitting up straight and take a few deep breaths. When doing this, use your stomach muscles to breath. Along with that, hold the side of your hand in front of your mouth as you take a deep breath. Start with four counts then let out about 8 counts. Keep doing that until you feel comfortable.
Before blowing into the clarinet, try blowing into the mouthpiece with the clarinet reed attached. When doing this, curve in your bottom lip over the reed but the reed should not touch your bottom teeth at any point whatsoever. Once you have gotten the placement correct, take a few breaths on the mouthpiece. When ready, blow over the mouthpiece. You should hear a high-pitched sound in the process, which you should try and hold out for as long as possible. By maintaining this, you prevent the constant accumulation of spit in the reed and mouthpiece.
Try using the ‘tee’ syllable when practicing to ensure that the tip of the tongue doesn’t touch the reed or isn’t too low. As you do this, you should be able to create a cleaner articulation sound. Also, practice for consistency on repeated notes for the best results.
Method 4: Keep the reed in its proper position
The reed should always be at the center of the mouthpiece and not too low. Also, the ligature should be tight enough to prevent any moisture leaks into the clarinet.
Every clarinetist has dealt with the spitty sound at one point of their music journey. The whole idea behind eliminating the spitty sound is to remove all the excessive moisture and create a sustainable seal that prevents any leaks.
Are harder clarinet reeds better?
Yes, they are. They produce a bigger, warmer, and more refined sound.
Why does my clarinet sound spitty after playing for a while?
This is mostly due to the accumulation of spit on the reed and mouthpiece.