Updated: Apr 6
The most common reasons for saxophone squeaking include a broken or misaligned reed, overly dry reed, playing with too much tension in the mouth, improper/high tongue position inside your mouth, or saxophone disrepair. Read more on each of these possible causes of saxophone squeaking below.
NOTE- If your saxophone is squeaking on G specifically (with the octave key), we answer that later in the article here.
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Reasons Why Your Saxophone May Be Squeaking
First and foremost, it's important to understand that squeaking on the saxophone is extremely common and normal, especially at the beginning. To help you minimize that squeaking, here are the most likely reasons for squeaks, in order of most likely to least likely.
1. You are too tense
This is a common reason for getting those annoying squeaks. Especially for beginner saxophonists, there tends to be a lot of playing tension in the mouth. Facial and mouth tension while playing the saxophone presents itself as pinching, squeezing, or tight feeling, so be sure to check yourself for any of those bad habits. Below are a few exercises to reduce tension:
Saxophone Exercises to Reduce Playing Tension
Be sure you are forming proper saxophone embouchure as outlined in this video here.
Stretch/relax your lips by saying or mouthing "Eeeee" "Ooooo" repeatedly (Ooo is the shape we use for saxophone embouchure).
Do some simple shoulder and arm stretches, like the ones we have in our 2-minute warm-up stretches here. Often that tension moves to our lips and mouth too, so take care of that tension at the source.
Practice playing a note with the most relaxed facial muscles possible.
2. The tongue position inside your mouth is too high
This reason is almost as common as number one, and it's a tricky one because neither you nor your teacher can see your tongue position inside your mouth. We have students correct this by relaxing their throat and letting their tongue simply rest in the bottom of their mouth.
3. Your reed is too dry
This can happen in dry, desert climates and in the winter months. When there isn't enough humidity in your surrounding environment, that sometimes fosters small squeaks. I noticed this personally when I moved from North Carolina to California. When we get the dry, desert air moving through San Diego, an overly dry reed becomes very noticeable. I also experienced this recently when in Arizona. However, this can also happen anywhere in the country during dry spells or dry winter months, or inside buildings that are particularly dry.
How do you know if your reed is too dry?
Here are some tip-offs that your reed or environment is too dry:
The reed literally feels dry (to the touch and in your mouth).
The problem is not resolved by switching reeds.
Your mouth will likely feel dry too.
You may see small wavy lines along the tip of the reed after you put the reed in your mouth (this is warping).
You are suddenly experiencing squeaks when you may have not had an issue with it before.
What can you do about it?
My current favorite remedy is using Legere plastic reeds (on both alto and tenor). Although I appreciate the warm, complex tone of traditional cane reeds, I am happy with the sound and response of Legere reeds, and the benefits, especially when it's dry, far outweigh the cons. The Legere plastic reeds work great for me in dry environments. They are also great for outdoor gigs.
Keep a glass of water nearby and give your reed a good soak whenever it's feeling too dry.
Be sure you're storing your saxophone reeds correctly as well (this applies to cane reeds).
4. Your reed is broken or not aligned correctly on the mouthpiece
Beyond humidity considerations, check to make sure your reed isn't chipped or broken. If you don't see any visible chips or cracks right away, there are a couple of other things that could be wrong with the reed:
There is a hairline crack (not easily visible) - Test this by gently pressing the flat side of the tip of the reed against the soft part of your thumb to see if there is a tiny crack anywhere (they would be along the grain of the reed).
The reed is warped (or looks wavy at the tip) - This happens when your reed goes through a lot of moisture changes. It could happen when it goes from being very, very dry to being wet with saliva, especially if you live in a dry climate. It can also happen with sudden weather changes, especially if reeds are not stored properly.
The reed is not creating a seal - To work properly, the reed must fully create a seal with the mouthpiece. The reed may not create a seal if it is broken or cracked, or if it is not aligned properly on the mouthpiece.
Test the seal by pressing the bottom of a fully-assembled mouthpiece into the palm of your hand (in the center). Then, put your mouth on the mouthpiece like you're going to play, but instead suck air in. After about a second, you should hear a "pop" sound. If you hear the pop sound, your reed is sealing. If not, your reed is not sealing properly.
There are some instances where your mouthpiece is the culprit for not getting a seal. If you try multiple reeds and multiple ligatures and you are never, or rarely, able to get a "pop" (a seal), it could be your mouthpiece.
3. You are accidentally pressing additional keys underneath your palms
You'll notice that when your hands are in place to play, there are several keys underneath your palms in both hands, and it's very easy to accidentally press down one of those keys. This often results in more of a honk than a squeak, or the note doesn't sound at all.
Just be sure to check your hands and make sure you aren't pressing down anything additional by accident, and curve those hands around like you're holding a bottle of water.
6. Your Saxophone is broken and leaking air
This is the least likely reason for getting squeaks. Typically if one of the tone holes isn't being properly sealed and air is leaking out, you won't get a high-pitched squeak; although, in some cases, you might. Usually, a leaking tone hole makes more of a honking sound, or the note just doesn't come out at all.
If you are playing on a saxophone that was previously (or currently) being stored in an attic, basement, closet, etc., consider having a local music store's repair shop check to be sure it's in working condition and not the culprit for your squeaking.
It's always best to store instruments in a temperature-controlled environment to keep in working in top condition.
*If your saxophone is squeaking on G specifically:
For squeaks, "gargling" sounds, or a wavering sound happening on G specifically (G with the octave key), check yourself for tension in your mouth and oral cavity, as we talked about in point #1 in this article, AND, make sure you're blowing a strong enough airstream through the saxophone as if trying to blow a piece of paper off a table (try that too without the sax).
G with the octave key is somewhat of a transition point into the upper range and can sometimes gargle or squeak if you aren't pushing enough air through the horn with a relaxed embouchure.
Watch our YouTube video here on how to properly produce a sound on the saxophone. Checking against these steps might help troubleshoot your squeaking G.
Thanks for reading! We hope you found this article answering "why is my saxophone squeaking" to be helpful.
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