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Common Clarinet Problems (and How to Solve them)

The last time your clarinet was played things seemed to go well, but now it suddenly stops playing altogether. Your clarinet is broken or not sounding as it used to.

But how do you know what went wrong?

In this article, we’ll look at common clarinetists’ encounters with their clarinets and explain why they happen.

We’ll also show you some simple tests you can perform to diagnose the problem yourself and the solutions for fixing it.

Detecting Common Clarinet Problems

Identifying what might be causing your clarinet not to be working is quite easy and crucial for a clarinet’s longer life.

Two easy tests to do is a visual inspection and a pressure test. 

Visual Inspection

First impressions count! The initial visual inspection of your clarinet is very important. This is the first step to identifying problems that might be occurring or preventing others that may occur later down the road.

Your clarinet should be inspected visually for several reasons.

First, it gives you a quick impression of its overall condition. Second, it allows you to see if any obvious problems need immediate repair. Third, it lets you know if the clarinet is ready to play.

  • When inspecting your clarinet, you’ll notice that the reed is aligned correctly and that the pad is in place.
  • Also, check to see if there are missing pads. Missing pads are often caused by improper alignment of the reed.
  • Check to make sure that none of the keys appear bent. Bent keys can lead to cracks in the keybed. Cracks in the keybed can lead to further issues including cracking.
  • Lastly, inspect the tenon cork to ensure that it hasn’t deteriorated. Deteriorated tenons can cause the reed to fall off.

Once you’ve completed your visual inspection, you’ll know if your clarinet is ready to go. If you find anything wrong, you might need to fix it right away before restarting the play.

Pressure test

A pressure test will tell you if the clarinet top joints can hold pressure or not. This is very important because if they can’t hold pressure, then you’ll have problems playing the instrument.

  • To conduct a pressure test, first, remove the mouthpiece from the clarinet. Then place the finger holes over the tone holes and seal them with your fingers. Next, press down on the upper joint tenons until you hear a click.

There are two common reasons why the top joint tenons fail to hold pressure.

  • The first reason is that the barrel-to-top joint tenon cork is damaged. To check this, remove the top joint tenons and inspect the barrel-to-tenon cork. If it’s damaged, replace it.
  • Another reason why the top joint tenon fails to hold pressure is that the barrel-bottom joint tenon cork has been removed. To check this, lift the top joint tenons off the barrel and examine the barrel-bottom joint cork. If it hasn’t been removed, then you’ll need a replacement.

The Most Common Clarinet Problems (and a Solution to Each of them)

Clarinet Squeaks and Tones Just Don’t Play

Squeaks occur when the clarinet makes a sound even though the player hasn’t pressed down on the key. This happens when the clarinet is loose, or when the player has a leaky key.

Tones just don’t play occurs when the clarinet sounds fine, but the notes aren’t playing correctly. The reason why this happens varies.

Sometimes, the clarinetist has a loose key. Other times, the clarinetist bends a key, causing the pads to not sit flat against the tone holes.

Regardless of the cause, both problems result in poor quality music. So, how do you solve them?

First, check to see if the clarinet is loose. Looseness often comes from improper tightening of the key mechanism. To tighten the key mechanism, loosen the screws holding the key assembly together, and retighten them.

Next, check to see if there is a leaky key. If the key leaks, then replace it.

Finally, check to see if a key is bent. Bending a key can happen when the clarinetist accidentally hits a key with his hand. Or, sometimes, the clarinetist may bend a key intentionally. In either case, bending a key causes the key to sticking up above the tone hole.

To correct a bent key, remove the key from the clarinet body, and straighten it back into place. Then, reattach the key to the clarinet body.

Tighten shaky screws

There are a lot of tiny screws inside your clarinet. Some are easy to see, while others are harder to see.

Sometimes you can visually or with a fingernail check the screw for tightness. But sometimes you can’t.

And even though you can’t always check them, you should still tighten them anyway.

Now and then you can visually or with your fingernails check the screws for tightness. But if you’re not able to do that, then you should probably just leave them alone.

Overdoing it can cause problems later on. So if you want to be sure, you may rather use locktite. Locktite is a special kind of glue that holds the screw together, but it is brittle.

So if you ever have to remove the screw, you can simply pull it off without damaging anything else.

That said, you shouldn’t overdo it. If you want to be safe you may instead use screw glue. This fixes the screw but makes it brittle.

So if the screw breaks off, you’ll have to replace it with a stronger one.

This is something you should only attempt if you need to. Otherwise, you should just leave the screws alone.

Spring power

Sometimes a key being closed by a spring does not shut properly or quickly enough.

This can happen for various reasons. The first thing you should check is whether the hub or axle needs cleaning or oiling.

Another reason why keys may not shut properly is if there is a mechanical obstruction.

To increase the power of spring, you need to carefully bend the spring in its direction.

When you’ve done that, you should watch out for the following issues:

– Check whether the spring is bent. Bending only works for a limited number of cycles.

– To increase the power of a key, carefully bend the spring in the direction it pushes.

– Watch out for obstructions.

Once you’ve checked those things, you should increase the spring power.

Bend Back Bent Keys

When you play clarinet, you often hear the phrase “bend back”. This means that you need to bend the keys back to their original shape.

This is done to prevent damage to the instrument. However, sometimes it’s difficult to bend the keys back without causing damage.

There are several reasons why you might need to bend back a key. For example, you might accidentally hit another key while playing. Or you might notice that the key is slightly crooked.

Regardless of the reason, you need to bend back the key gently. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging the instrument.

Before bending back a key, first, check and see if it’s already bent back. Then, bend back only a small amount. Don’t overdo it, otherwise, you might break the key.

Check and double-check that the key is completely straight before bending it back. Also, look for fine cracks or solder joints. These are areas where the key was attached to the instrument.

Be careful when bending back a key. Think ahead about what will happen if you bend it back too far. Will it affect the other keys? What will happen if you bend the wrong key back?

If you have questions about bending back a key, consult your teacher or contact your local music store. They may be able to give you advice and help you fix the issue.

Pad Replacement

Replace a Pad

Replacing pads is a delicate job, especially if you haven’t done it before. But once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s easy and holds no risks.

The necessary materials can be found easily and are inexpensive.

Traditional methods of replacing a pad involve gluing it into the key with sealant. This works fine, but it takes practice to master the technique.

Sealing wax becomes fluid when heated over a flame. You drizzle it into the hot key cup, where you want the pad to sit, and then you put it in the pad.

Since the sealing wax becomes solid gradually, you have a minute of correction to the pad’s position.

Joints Are Shaking

When you play the clarinet, you’ve got to be careful not to overdo things. The corks in the tenon joint can easily become loose. This makes the joint weak and prone to cracking.

This happens when the wood shrinks after being exposed to air for a long period. So if you notice that the corks in the joint are becoming loose, you can try laying moist paper around the corks until they fit again.

However, be careful not to over-tighten the joint. That can lead to cracks in the wood. Also, you shouldn’t leave the clarinet outside during the winter months.

So if you notice that the joint is getting loose, you can try tightening it back up. But if you notice that the wood is cracked, then you should probably just replace the clarinet.

Cork on Joints

When you buy a clarinet, you often receive a set of replacement corks. These corks are used to replace ones that were damaged during shipping.

However, sometimes you might notice that the corks aren’t quite fitting properly. This is especially true if you’ve had the instrument for a while.

Two common problems occur when replacing corks. First, you might accidentally cut off part of the cork. Second, you might not have enough adhesive left to hold the cork securely onto the key.

To avoid either problem, you can simply remove the old cork and replace it with a new one. However, if you do this, you’ll have to re-glue the cork back on the key.

This is where you can use the other side of the cork to help you. Simply place the cork over the hole in the key and press down firmly. Then, apply some hot glue to the bottom of the cork. Finally, let the glue dry completely before placing the cork back on top of the key.

Now, whenever you play the clarinet, the cork will remain secure and sound quality shouldn’t suffer.

Broken Keys

For broken keys, there are not many DIY tips to follow. It will need soldering. And unless you have experience with it, that will need to be done by a professional repairer.


Fixing cracks on the wood is also something to be done by a professional. Professional repairers use a special super glue that sinks in deep into the crack and holes and while it closes in help gaps and cracks.

All of this process is done without hurting the joint. So, go whenever possible to a professional and fix that crack.

Clarinet Sound Problems – the Most Common Ones

Clarinet Sounds Flat

If your clarinet sounds flat, your band director may ask you to tune it by pushing the barrel in closer, shortening the instrument. However, there are several steps that you can take to fix the problem.

Bringing an instrument in from the outside air can sometimes cause it to play flat due to moisture in the wood. Therefore, many band directors wait until their students have warmed up before “tuning” them.

“Voicing” – the process of forming a correct vowel sound—is essential for playing in tune, and this is what happens when you play a note. Your tongue, lips, jaw, teeth, and even your vocal cords form a certain shape to make a particular sound.

Clarinet Sounds Raspy or Airy

Airy or raspy notes can come from several different causes.

A poorly formed embouchure or improperly adjusted instrument components can both contribute to an airy or raspy note quality. Poor technique can also lead to airy or raspiness.

If you notice an airy or raspy tone in your clarinet, focus first on improving your embouchure. Another possible cause can come from non-maintenance pads that are not sealing properly.

Can’t Play Low Notes

If you’re having difficulty getting down to the lower registers, it could be because you are choking up too much on the mouthpiece and reed. This causes you to play the wrong pitch and makes it difficult to produce the correct tone.

The easiest way to fix this is by correcting your embouchure and breath support. If you frequently choke up on the mouthpiece and/or reed, you’ll find that you often can’t get the low notes out of your clarinet. In addition, you might notice that you tend to choke up on the mouthpiece and/or reed during practice sessions. When you do this, it becomes increasingly difficult to play the low notes correctly.

Try pulling the instrument out of the mouth a little bit at a time until you can get those low notes out. You’ll want to focus on breath support from the abdomen rather than the chest. To help develop proper breathing techniques, think about how you breathe when you sing. Think about making sure that you exhale completely before inhaling again. This helps prevent you from “holding your breath.”

You might also consider practicing with a metronome. A metronome will allow you to train yourself to play in tempo. Once you’ve mastered playing in tempo, you’ll be able to use the metronome to keep your timing consistent when you play without one.

Difficulty Achieving Higher Notes

The low register on the clarinet might be easier to play. But high notes are another story. They’re hard to reach, even for experienced players. And if you don’t know how to play them, you might never learn.

Most people just aren’t capable of playing high notes—even though we hear them every day. We see those beautiful melodies played on TV, in movies, and online. We read about famous musicians who can do it. But we wonder why we can’t.

So what’s up? Are we born without the ability to play high notes? Or does our technique fail us? Is there something wrong with our instrument? Most probably you will need to improve your embouchure.

If you want to play high notes, you’ll have to work at it. You’ll have to practice. And you’ll have to find the right method for learning how to play high notes. 

Clarinet Sounds Spitty Or Wet

Maybe you have heard the old joke about how it takes less effort to make a wet fart sound like music than it does to play the clarinet. But what exactly causes such a type of wet sound? 

The primary cause of the problem is moisture buildup within the mouthpiece, barrel, and joint areas. When you blow into the mouthpiece, the air gets trapped behind the lip seal, and eventually makes its way down the tube and into the barrel. As the air travels down the length of the tube, it picks up moisture from the lips and tongue.

Eventually, this moist air reaches the end of the tube where it hits the reed and begins vibrating. Because there are no holes along the entire length of the tube, the vibration spreads throughout the whole instrument.

When you play a note, the air pressure builds up in front of the reed, pushing it open and allowing the air to pass through. However, because there is still some moisture left in the tube, the reed doesn’t close completely and allows the air to escape. This creates a whistling effect, which we hear as a spitty noise.

To fix this issue, simply wipe away the excess moisture with a damp cloth. If you don’t want to clean the instrument yourself, you can always ask someone else to help. Just remember to take the reed out before starting, and put it back on correctly afterward.

Clarinet Doesn’t Make Any Sound

If your clarinet doesn’t make any sound at all, there are several possible causes. You may have problems getting enough air into the instrument. You may have problems holding the reed in place. Or you may have problems making contact with the reed while playing.

A couple of things could be going on here. First, your reed may not be on the mouthpiece properly. This is usually caused by having the reed slip off the mouthpiece during play. When this happens, the reed isn’t vibrating at all, even though it looks like it’s doing fine.

The second possibility is that your reed may not fit properly inside the mouthpiece. For example, the reed may be slipping down too far inside the mouthpiece. If this is the case, the reed won’t vibrate because it’s touching the lip of the mouthpiece.

The third possibility is that you’re biting down too hard on your mouthpiece. If you do this, you’ll probably end up pressing against the reed itself. In this case, the reed will still look okay, but it won’t work well.

Finally, you might not be generating enough pressure with your lips. If you aren’t producing enough airflow, the reed won’t be vibrating. And without vibration, the reed won’t make any sound.

To remedy this problem, try loosening your embouchures slightly, relaxing your jaw muscles, and breathing slowly. Also, try adjusting the position of your hands on the mouthpiece.

If none of those solutions works, take your clarinet to a professional repair shop. They can check the reeds and mouthpieces to see what needs fixing.