11 Reasons Your Saxophone Squeaks (+ How To Fix It)

why is my saxophone squeaking

A squeaking saxophone is never good. 

It’s quite ear-piercing and jarring, not to mention frustrating for the sax player as they are trying to practice and sound good. 

The only thing worse than a squeaky saxophone is a squeaky clarinet, which is why I came up with these 11 reasons why your saxophone is squeaking. 

Saxophones squeak for many reasons, but the most common ones are a broken or misaligned reed or too tight of an embouchure. Other common reasons include: 

  • Reed Is Broken Or Chipped
  • Taking Too Much Of The Mouthpiece
  • Reed Is Out Of Alignment
  • Embouchure Too Tight On The Reed
  • High Tongue
  • Your Reed Is Too Old (Or Too Soft)
  • Bad Mouthpiece
  • Octave Key Not Working Right
  • Instrument Has A Leak Or Malfunctioning Key
  • Reed Is Dry
  • Biting Or Putting Teeth On The Reed

Let’s get into why you or your student may be squeaking, troubleshoot which problem it is, and, best of all, fix the problem! 

Note: While I talked about this article with the alto saxophone in mind, it also applies to the tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and baritone saxophone. 

It even (mostly) applies to the clarinet! 

Reed Is Broken Or Chipped

The number 1 reason I hear squeaking is because of a damaged or chipped reed. 

When someone squeaks a lot (and they don’t normally), the first thing to check is the reed. 

Inspect the tip of the reed for chips, cracks, bends, and other signs of damage. 

A chipped reed doesn’t vibrate properly, often resulting in a surprised squeak. 

How do we fix this?

This is the easiest fix in the world! 

Just get a new reed! 

I recommend a Vandoren 3 alto sax reed for a quality reed with a middle-of-the-road thickness. 

It may not always be easy to see if a reed is chipped, so don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with it. 

Taking Too Much Mouthpiece

I recently fit all of my fifth graders for the band, and they got to try the mouthpieces for all of the instruments. 

9 times out of 10, when the students played the single-reed mouthpiece, they stuck almost the entire thing in their mouth. 

First of all, this makes it super hard to make a sound. 

Second of all, when you get a sound, it’s tense and likely to squeak. 

It’s a common problem and one that needs to be fixed right away! 

How do we fix this?

One of my band director friends, Heidi Schlosser, taught me this trick. 

Take your thumb, turn it upside down (nail up), and put it in your mouth. 

Your upper lip should just touch the cuticle, where the skin meets the nail. 

Your upper teeth should rest somewhere in the middle of your nail. 

This is what the mouthpiece should feel like when you put it in your mouth. 

If you or your students keep this in mind, they’ll have a much better idea of how to fix this. 

Reed Is Out Of Alignment Or Too Far Over

Another common reason for squeaky saxes is when the reed is out of alignment. 

From left to right, the reed should be in the center of the mouthpiece, and it needs to be completely even. 

Most people do this when they put their reed on, but it sometimes moves afterward. 

There are two main reasons for this: 

  • The reed gets bumped as you put the ligature on.
  • You don’t tighten the ligature enough, and the reed moves as you play. 

Another big problem is when the tip of the reed sticks out too far over the tip of the mouthpiece. 

The reed needs to be either exactly even or just below the tip of the mouthpiece. 

Check the reed and see if either of these is a problem. 

How do we fix this?

Loosen your ligature and readjust your reed to make sure it’s in line left to right and the tips line up. 

Check out our full guide on how to put a reed on a saxophone (with video and common mistakes). 

Embouchure Too Tight On The Reed

Another thing a lot of new saxophone players and new students do is squeeze the mouthpiece and reed too hard. 

When your embouchure (lip muscles) are too tense, the reed may start to squeak. 

A solid embouchure is needed for the saxophone, but this shouldn’t apply to the pressure you put on the reed. 

The reed needs freedom to vibrate to produce a good tone.

If it feels like you’re working too hard, try relaxing your mouth. 

If you’re not sure if this is you, consider video recording yourself and watching your face and neck. 

Do you hold too much tension? 

If so, this may be the cause of your squeaks. 

How do we fix this?

Do some lip relaxing exercises. 

Some of my favorites to recommend include saying “ooh” or “aah” and rubbing your cheeks and face with your hands. 

Another good tip is to blow loose lip bubbles. 

This will help relax your muscles and encourage blood flow for greater flexibility. 

Form your embouchure and get ready to play.

But STOP!

Make a conscious effort to loosen your lips a little at a time while still being able to make sound well. 

This is your sweet spot. 

High Tongue

reasons saxophone squeaks

On the clarinet, a high tongue is a good thing. 

But this isn’t the case for the saxophone. 

By “high tongue,” we mean when the tongue sits high in your mouth as if you were saying the “eee” sound. 

On saxophone, it’s better if you make an “oooh” or “aaaah” shape. 

Even just thinking this sound will make your tongue drop lower. 

High tongues alter the airflow, and the way vibrations work with your saxophone. 

It brings too much direct pressure on the reed. 

This makes the sax squeak. 

How do we fix this?

Lower your tongue when you play. 

If imagining an “ooh” or “aah” sound doesn’t work, I always like this metaphor. 

Imagine you’re trying to swallow an apple without letting the apple touch your mouth, tongue, or throat. 

As you imagine it, all parts open up. 

This prevents squawking AND helps with creating a great saxophone sound. 

Check out this massive list of words to describe a saxophone sound in our article. 

Your Reed Is Too Old (Or Too Soft)

Reeds, reeds, reeds. 

Reeds are an important factor for saxophone playing. 

A bad reed will make you squeak, and an old one will too. 

Of course, an old reed is better than a cracked one, but not by much. 

Old reeds get too loose and sometimes end up vibrating too much. 

If they absorb too much moisture or lose their elasticity, they could stick to the mouthpiece and cause a squeak. 

To a lesser degree, this is also true with a soft reed. 

Saxophone reeds are numbered 1-6 on a hardness scale, with 1 being the softest and 6 being the hardest and thickest. 

If the reed is too soft for you, it may end up causing issues. 

Softer reeds squeak more and sound airy or fuzzy.

How do we fix this?

Get a new reed and one that’s more in the middle of the thickness rating. 

For beginners, a 2 or 2.5 reed will help you make a good sound without being too squeaky. 

For everyone else, a 3 or 3.5 is ideal as an all-around reed. 

By the way, if you play daily, you should be changing your reed every 1-2 weeks. 

Harder reeds provide better sound and articulation, but you have to work harder to get them to play.

Bad Mouthpiece

A bad mouthpiece will hold you back. 

Too many people just use the one that came with their saxophone instrument. 

While it may be OK, a sax mouthpiece is a personal thing. 

You need to try out different ones to find the right one for you. 

Worse, if it’s poor quality or has a crack or chip, it may cause excessive squeaking and airiness on your woodwind instrument.  

How do we fix this?

Get a new mouthpiece! 

There are a ton out there, and yes, many are quite expensive. 

If you’re looking for a quality alto mouthpiece that won’t break the bank, I recommend getting a Vandoren AL3

Of course, there are a ton of other options out there. 

Check out our list of the best alto sax mouthpieces for every situation. 

A plastic, wood, or metal mouthpiece will do the job if it’s quality. 

Octave Key Not Working Right

In some cases, you may only squeak on certain notes or certain ranges of notes. 

The biggest culprit of this issue is the octave key. 

For some reason, it always tends to stick or leak, causing more squeaking.

If you find your high notes squeak more, I’d check the key first. 

It may also kick in when you switch between octaves too and play low notes after upper register notes. 

How do you fix this?

Check the octave key to make sure it’s not sticking or anything. 

If it is, you may have to clean it. 

Check out our guide on how to clean saxophone keys

It seriously takes two seconds. Just click to check out the guide. 

If you inspect the key and find something is bent or not working, send it to your local music store for repairs. 

They’ll be able to take care of it for you, and this is usually not an expensive fix. 

Instrument Has A Leak Or Malfunctioning Key

Along the same lines, if you’re only squeaking on playing a specific note, it’s probably a specific key issue. 

In this case, you’ll have to do a bit of detective work to figure out where the issue is and with which tone holes. 

But otherwise, it’s a similar problem to the last tip.  

How do we fix this?

Play your chromatic scale one note at a time on long tones (use alternate fingerings on occasion, too) and isolate which key is the squeaker when pressed. 

After finding the culprit, clean the pad and inspect for damage. 

If you find anything or it still causes problems, send it to the music store. 

Reed Is Dry

If a reed is too soft, it may squeak. 

But the opposite is also true. 

If the reed is too dry or hard, you may get a saxophone squeak for different reasons. 

Dry reeds must be broken in, and they must be wetted before you play on them. 

Whether it’s a new reed (or you just forgot to wet it), take the time before playing to moisten the cane reed up! 

How do we fix this?

Put the reed in your mouth and let your saliva soak the reed for one minute. 

Turn the reed upside down halfway through to make sure both sides are equally wet. 

Some professional saxophone players even lick their reeds at first. 

You don’t have to do this, but it doesn’t hurt. 

Keep in mind: new reeds need to be wet longer and broken in more. 

Some people even suggest letting it soak in water for two minutes. 

I think that’s a little overkill, but it’ll do the job. 

Either way, wetting the reed gives the wood its flexibility and avoids the popping squeaks that come from tough wood. 

Note: Synthetic reeds and plastic reeds don’t have this problem. 

Biting Or Putting Teeth On The Reed

When you put something in your mouth, one of your natural instincts is to bite down. 

I get it; it’s natural for me too. 

But this is NOT good on the saxophone, and it causes quite a bit of squeaking. 

It also damages the reeds quickly, meaning you’ll go through a lot more. 

The problem on the squeaking end is the same as having too tight of an embouchure. 

By preventing the reed from vibrating freely, you force it to handle more energy at one time. 

This makes the squeaks happen. 

How do we fix this?

First, get those bottom teeth off the reed. 

No teeth should touch the reed. 

Roll your lower lip or bottom lip over your teeth to avoid this. 

On the top teeth end, you need to change your mindset. 

Don’t think bite; think rest your teeth on the top. 

It’s more like the top teeth are providing support while the lower lips do the work. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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