Awful Whistle Sound on Clarinet!!!!

by Anne

I sometimes get an excruciating loud high pitched whistle when playing a fast rising figure when I have to go from A(second space) to D(fourth line). It happens less frequently with G sharp to D/A to E etc. It is really affecting my confidence as it seems to happen when I'm most into the music and "giving it all" and is unexpected. At least it was.....I am beginning to clam up just in case!! Weirdly, it seems to be reed related. My last box of 10 gave me 5 otherwise lovely reeds which I wrote W on the back of and will probably not use! Any help gratefully accepted.


Hello Anne,

This one is hard to diagnose with a description and not hearing or seeing what is happening. However, I’ll try to help you narrow down your issue. The best way to control this issue is to attack it from every direction. Once you figure it out, you can then feel comfortable playing, as long as you know what to do to stop it in the future.

1. First of all, take one of those ‘w’ reeds and play the fast passage from A to D a number of times and just let it happen. Let the whistle happen. Then, slow the passage down. Play the A for a whole note and then the D for a whole note. Does it still whistle? If so, why? What tempo does it have to be to start whistling again?

2. Where is the whistle coming from? Is the source at the reed and mouthpiece? Is there air escaping from your lips and creating a whistle sound? Or is there an anomaly on your clarinet, maybe the pad on the A key is breaking down and creating the sound (however, this would not explain why it happens mostly with A to D).

3. Now, let’s go backwards. Try a long tone D and slur to A. What is happening? Speed up the tempo and analyze. If you can play these longs tone either up or down without whistling, you can also do it faster.

4. I’m also assuming this whistle happened when you slur up from A to D. Does it happen if you articulate both notes?

5. Now, try all of the above with some different pitches. Try A to C, A to B, A to E, and attempt to catch any hint of a whistle. It is interesting to me that this mostly only occurs from A to D. Again, play them slow, fast, slur, articulate…

6. Now, let’s talk about equipment. I actually typed out the mouthpiece trial first, but I didn’t want you to blame equipment only first. I’m with you, it is probably the reeds. A good gauge is to try a different mouthpiece with the reeds that whistle. Your current mouthpiece could have a warp, or scratch, or chip that is causing the whistle. If it is the mouthpiece, and suddenly the ‘w’ reeds are not whistling anymore, buy a new mouthpiece. That is a whole new adventure, finding the right mouthpiece for you. Read Clarinet Equipment Rule of Three.

7. Try all of your reeds in different spots on your mouthpiece. I’ve written about this on Reed Adjustment. Here, you’ll find out the benefits of rotating your reeds, and figuring the best place a reed plays by doing simple adjustments on the mouthpiece. Again, I would pull the ‘whistle’ reeds out and see if they whistle having been placed on the mouthpiece different ways (slightly high, slightly low, slightly left, slightly right, etc...).

So, I’ve answered your question with a whole bunch of questions. If we were to have an in-person clarinet lesson, these would be steps I’d take to narrow down the problem. You should print these out, and take them to your Band Director and get his/her observations. Also, never underestimate the power of Private Clarinet Lessons. A good Private Clarinet Teacher will help you figure this out and help you progress rapidly on the clarinet.

Good luck and keep me up-to-date on your practicing. Please, please, please, respond to this article or send a direct email to me letting me know your findings: “It was **Blah**.”


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