Why does a note only squeak with some reeds?

Why does a note only squeak with some reeds?

Got an interesting question from someone today I wanted to share. She writes,

Do you know of any particular sanding spot that would address that wonkiness that seems to occur when playing middle register D on an alto sax ? It seems like some of my reeds squeak on that note, but if I change reeds, the squeak is gone (so I feel like it's the reed and not just me giving too much pressure or whatever).

Sound familiar?

Well, one answer is, it definitely could be the reed —but it’s hard to say without seeing the reed and the instrument. And, to my knowledge, I don’t know of any particular “wonky” zone of the reed.

BUT, there is another possible answer to this mystery.

The writer gives this piece of information: it occurs on the middle register D on Alto Sax. Like the clarion register D on a bass clarinet, that note is played with almost all fingers down, which means at least a dozen pads need to be sealing perfectly in order for the note to speak without any issues. If a pad is leaking, especially higher up on the instrument, the instrument is not playing efficiently, and as such, it’s much more inclined to squeak.

Now, a good reed will often overcome the instability of that note, but a bad reed simply can’t. So it’s quite possible that the squeak on that note has nothing to do with the reed at all, and everything to do with the instrument. But how do you know? You can try this: if your instrument squeaks or acts wonky “down there” (meaning when you’ve got your right hand down), squeeze your fingers tightly to see if the wonkiness goes away. If it does, you’ve probably got a leak somewhere, and can have that addressed.

And, well, if it doesn’t, we’re back to square one. But I’d still take the instrument in to see a good repair person to check for leaks. Because those are often the bang-your-head-against-the-wall gremlins that keep us from reaching our potential on the instrument. It’s worth a try!


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