Saxophones produce a uniquely lovely sound that most people can recognize within a few notes. However, they also tend to produce squeaks, especially when played by inexperienced players.
A saxophone could be squeaking for several reasons, from improper mouthpiece positioning to an incorrect embouchure. However, most squeaking issues stem from a problem with the reed. New reeds need attention, and old reeds need to be replaced.
We’ll go over how to assess and fix common squeaking issues below. Let’s examine why your saxophone is squeaking and learn how to stop it from squeaking once and for all.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
Free eBook: Discover how real independent musicians like you are making $4,077 - $22,573+ monthly via Youtube, let me know where to send the details:
Why Your Saxophone Squeaks and Common Fixes
Saxophones squeak for a few different reasons. Let’s go over each of them and discuss how you can fix these issues:
- Bottom teeth touching the reed: Improperly biting the mouthpiece can and will cause the sax to squeak. Your bottom lip should cover your bottom teeth; your upper teeth should be resting along the top of the mouthpiece.
- Reed is too dry: Even a brand-new reed will squeak if it isn’t wet enough. All reeds need to have a bit of moisture on them for them to produce the right sound. One easy way to do this is to put the reed in your mouth while you’re assembling the rest of your sax. Once you’re ready for the mouthpiece, the reed may be wet enough. Some sax players keep their reed in an old pill bottle that’s filled with water, too.
- Reed is broken: A broken reed is guaranteed to make even the most experienced sax player have a squeaky performance. Examine the reed for any chips or splinters, and if found, replace the reed. Look for those sneaky hairline fractures that are hard to see but will still cause plenty of squeaking.
- Reed is new: This one goes hand in hand with a reed being “too dry.” A brand-new reed needs a little more time to soak in your mouth or water since it has been bone dry up until now. Give it plenty of time to soak up liquid before using it.
- Embouchure too loose or too tight: Embouchure is essentially your grip on the mouthpiece with your mouth. If the embouchure is too loose, you may not even be able to produce a sound, and if you do, it might be a squeak. If it’s too tight, it might not be giving the reed enough room to vibrate, which can cause squeaks.
- Too much mouthpiece in the mouth: A common new player mistake is to have way too much mouthpiece in the mouth, which will cause squeaks. A great rule of thumb for how much of the mouthpiece should be in your mouth is to look at where the reed starts separating from the mouthpiece. You’ll see a sliver of air, and that sliver will grow larger. The point where the first sliver appears is where your bottom lip should rest. Any further down may result in squeaks.
- The mouthpiece is at an angle: If your mouthpiece is not horizontal in your mouth, you’ll likely get squeaks even with a perfect reed. Your mouthpiece should never be at an angle in your mouth. This mistake can happen even to the best of players, so stay mindful of it.
- Blowing too hard: This is an especially large problem for beginners who are still working out how hard to blow into the instrument. Pushing too much air through the saxophone is almost certainly going to cause your saxophone to squeak, and it may even cause your reed to break. The saxophone is quite forgiving when it comes to air pressure, but too much air will still cause problems.
These may seem like a large number of reasons for squeaks, but as you become a more experienced saxophone player, you’ll become skilled at recognizing the cause and correcting it quickly. If you’re a brand new player, take the time to learn each of these causes so that you are equipped to deal with them in the future. And in the unlikely event the above doesn’t fix your squeaking, these ideas might.
Change Your Reed Often to Avoid Squeaks
As we’ve seen, most squeaking issues can be traced back to the reed. This begs the question: how often should it be replaced?
The exact answer will depend on how often you play. However, a good general rule of thumb is to replace it every two weeks; this is the general lifespan of a reed with regular playing.
However, you may need to replace your reed before two weeks if it happens to break. A broken reed should always be replaced immediately; don’t try to play through it. Not only will your job be much harder, but you’ll likely be squeaking up a storm.
Improve Your Embouchure to Avoid Squeaks
A strong and sensitive embouchure will do wonders for your saxophone playing. You don’t want an embouchure that is too weak as you’ll struggle to play consistently strong notes, or you might not be able to produce a song at all. On the other hand, if your embouchure is too tight, you’ll be more prone to squeaking.
An ideal embouchure is trained to be strong and firm, but not overly so. You will naturally strengthen your embouchure, including fine-tuning the sensitivity, as you continue to play. There is no need to set aside separate time just for working on your embouchure.
If you find that your embouchure is too weak, however, there are some activities you can do to help:
- Pencil Exercise: Grab a wood pencil and close your teeth around it, with the unsharpened end facing inwards. Wrap your lips around the pencil, then let go with your teeth, with the pencil sticking straight out of your mouth. Hold it for as long as you can, then let go for a short break, and then go back in. Repeat until your lips and related muscles burn.
- Pucker Up: Push your lips out as far as possible in a pucker motion. Try as hard as you can to push even further out until your muscles burn. Relax, and then repeat the exercise.
- Pucker-Smile. This exercise begins with the previous one, but after the pucker, move into an exaggerated smile. Hold this faux smile for as long as possible, then move back to the pucker position.
Be aware that these exercises are intended to be done every day. You can do all three per day or pick one to focus on every week. Over time, your embouchure will become strong, firm, and sensitive.
Does Squeaking Mean My Saxophone is Broken?
Squeaking does not usually mean your saxophone is broken. As discussed above, it’s typically a result of a reed, mouthpiece, or embouchure issue.
The most common way that a saxophone is broken is the seals of the tone holes wearing out. If one of these tone holes isn’t properly sealed with pressed down, air will leak out. However, the result of the air running out still isn’t usually a squeak, although it can be. It’s typically a honk-like noise, or there is no sound at all.
If your saxophone is honking or not making sound at all, it’s time to visit an instrument repair expert. However, if the only issue is that you have squeaks, keep looking at the issues mentioned in the previous section.
Why Do Saxophone Squeak? Final Thoughts
My saxophone has started squeaking, what should I do? You came here wondering that, I hope we’ve helped you figure it out.
Today, we’ve examined a few different reasons why your saxophone might start squeaking. Most of them can be traced back to your reeds not being wet enough, being too new, or being broken. You should always examine your reeds the second you start squeaking and remember that squeaking is not usually indicative of a malfunctioning saxophone.