Squeaking is often a dreaded feature of playing the clarinet. The acoustics of the clarinet make it overblow at every other interval (the first partial is a 12th). Other wind instruments, like the flute, oboe, bassoon, and saxophone, overblow at regular intervals (the first partial is an octave). This feature creates the dark tone colour characteristic of the clarinet. This acoustic feature is also what makes the clarinet squeak. There is a lot of information that can be gained from a squeak. When approached with curiosity and an open mind squeaks can help to build control and refine clarinet playing.
There are three main reasons why clarinets squeak:
- Fingers not covering the holes. If your fingers don’t cover the holes completely, air can escape and disrupt the airstream inside of the clarinet emphasizing a high pitched partial.
- Moving the embouchure. Embouchure movement disrupts the consistency of reed vibration which can make the clarinet squeak.
- Moving the clarinet. Moving the clarinet also forces embouchure movement which disrupts the consistency of reed vibration.
These are the primary reasons the clarinet squeaks. Embouchure fatigue, water in tone holes, a warped reed, warped mouthpiece, and poorly sealing clarinet are also factors that can disrupt the airstream and cause a squeak.
While a squeak can be embarrassing, when practicing, a squeak can be used to refine control. If I squeak during a practice session I always try to replicate the squeak intentionally to determined why it happened. If I can replicate the squeak intentionally and determine its pitch I have a new sense of control and have learned a new note (this can especially be valuable for contemporary music). This approach is an effort to have complete control over the clarinet and bring legitimacy to an often less desirable aspect of playing clarinet.