Why Saxophones Squeak & How To Prevent Squeaking

Saxophones are tricky instruments to master, owing to their embouchure demands. However, even with the correct embouchure, you may still run into issues. A common issue is squeaking, either when playing certain notes or simply by blowing air into the instrument.

Saxophones squeak due to various factors:

  1. The embouchure takes in too much of the mouthpiece or is too tight, hampering the reed's proper vibration.
  2. There are problems with the setup (reed, mouthpiece, or leakage issues).
  3. The instrument is of low quality and needs replacing.

In this article, we'll discuss the different variables that induce a saxophone to squeak, as well as the possible solutions applicable to each case.

Related articles:
• Top 11 Best Saxophone Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Saxophone

Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn How To Play Saxophone

What Causes A Saxophone To Squeak?

Saxophones squeak for a myriad of reasons, involving improper embouchure, problems related to the setup, or the use of low-quality equipment.

Squeaks are unwanted high-pitched sounds that usually happen after playing a note or when trying to play one. These are similar to the involuntary voice cracks one hears from a human voice.

To properly diagnose the problem, we must look into the following factors:

Embouchure Problems

Squeaking is a very normal occurrence among beginner students and amateur players. The embouchure is one of the first aspects of saxophone playing that needs mastering. We must train our embouchure muscles to handle a controlled airflow, maintain a seal with the mouthpiece and allow for proper reed vibration.

Improper embouchure leads to strain on the lips and jaw. Biting the reed is another common error that trainees make when first exposed to the instrument.

As we bite, we compress the area between the reed and the mouthpiece's tip, and the reed's movement is effectively thwarted, leading to the air column not being adequately propelled throughout the length of the tube. The reed also vibrates at a very high speed and a shorter timeframe, producing sounds with a much higher frequency and a diminished duration (namely, a squeak).

Moreover, students ought to know how much of the mouthpiece should be in the mouth. The bottom lip should cover the teeth and be placed under the spot where the reed and mouthpiece touch, respecting the proper tip opening (the space between tips of both the reed and mouthpiece).

The rules for proper embouchure are:

  • The bottom lip should be covering the lower teeth.
  • Top teeth should rest on the mouthpiece.
  • 1/3 of the mouthpiece should be inside the mouth.

Related article: Can Playing The Saxophone Damage Your Teeth?

Setup Problems

It is not usual for experienced sax players to lose their technique suddenly. When a trained saxophonist notices a squeak, it may signal a problem with the saxophone itself rather than the player.

Playing the saxophones requires precision on the player's part and the instrument's part. Any minor misalignment or shift on any of its parts could lead to major bugs in the sound delivery.

Now that we've dealt with playing technique concerns, let's delve into the possible issues present in the saxophone itself.

Reed Issues

In the case of the reed, it may be broken (which is much more likely than the saxophone itself breaking). A broken reed will not be able to vibrate properly since the bond between its particles is severed, and the kinetic energy is not transferred uniformly, in which case a replacement is due.

Other minor reed issues are prone to occur to beginners.

Misalignment between the mouthpiece and the reed is often what produces squeaks. They should be lined up so that the edge of the reed matches that of the mouthpiece's upper lip.

When the reed is placed too far ahead, the sound turns “quackier” and is more susceptible to squeaks. Conversely, a reed situated too far behind produces a more controlled but dull sound.

In some instances, the reed is correctly aligned, yet you still notice that the tips do not line up. This means that the reed has been warped, and you'll possibly need to replace it. Soaking it thoroughly can fix a warped reed, but this doesn't always work optimally.

Finally, the difficulty may be resolved by simply wetting your reed. A reed's performance improves when it's wet. Nonetheless, wetting it too much will cause waterlogging, diminishing the reed's response and producing a distorted sound.

Working with saxophone reeds is an art in and of itself!

To learn more about saxophone reeds, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
How To Break In A New Saxophone Reed Step-By-Step
How To Fix A Saxophone Reed (Hard, Warped)

Mechanical Issues

You will be capable of detecting a mechanical issue when the squeak happens at specific notes or fingerings.

The most troublesome notes in a saxophone are normally G and D.

G is generally the most sensitive and unstable note in the entire instrument and is the most prone to squeaking. This is often produced due to the octave key not operating properly, even if the fingering has been mastered.

For more info on saxophone octave keys, check out my article How To Fix A Saxophone Octave Key (Sticky, Stiff, Bent, Worn).

If the saxophone squeaks when going from C to D, this could signal problems with either the octave key or a leak in the instrument. However, leaks are more commonly diagnosed when squeaks happen on lower notes.

When these issues occur, the best course of action is to take the saxophone to a repairman. It's not recommended to attempt a DIY repair job unless you have the necessary tools and expertise.

Equipment Problems

Occasionally, the equipment used is not of good quality. A saxophone's tone cannot be salvaged by embouchure and technique alone if the instrument is afflicted with badly-built pads, mouthpiece, and reed.

When playing with a low-quality mouthpiece, several issues are bound to pop up, such as squeaking or non-responsive notes. You may even get frustrated thinking that it's a problem on your end, but, in fact, the problem lies with the mouthpiece being built with cheap materials or with a poor finish.

The same can be said of reeds, keys, pads, and other accessories/components. Sometimes, these cheap parts can deliver decent performance during the first few days or weeks but are liable to turn faulty soon afterwards.

In light of these setbacks, it's always advisable to buy equipment from reputable manufacturers and stores that provide solid warranties and have a good track record.

Before we wrap up, I should mention that if your saxophone playing is too loud, it may be worth considering a mute. Not all mutes work the same, so researching them is worth the time and effort.

To learn about saxophone mutes, check out my article What Is A Saxophone Mute & How Do Mutes Work?

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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