Problems With Clarinets

Potential problems with your clarinet and how to fix them.

All instruments can break or have problems at any time, even if they are well maintained. However, if you know what to look for and how to deal with it, your instrument should remain in good playing condition.

Some problems can be fixed at home, while others cannot. Knowing which you can fix is the first step to handling the problems. Never attempt to fix problems best handled by a qualified repairman. Never take your instrument apart, remove keys or screws, or damage the wood in any way.

Sometimes, while playing, a note may sound "spitty" or may not play correctly (due to water in the opening). Find the key that's having the problem, open it, and blow into it to remove the spit. Then, swab your clarinet out. If this continually happens in the same key, take your clarinet to a repairman to have the pad replaced.

Your E/B may not speak, especially the B. To see if this is a serious problem, play a D (over the break) very softly. Then, push down the B key and see if the note sounds. If it doesn't, take the clarinet to a repairman and have him change the pad. If the B doesn't speak at a very soft dynamic, then the pad isn't sealing correctly. If you need a very quick fix, get a small piece of masking tape and fold it over in a circle. Place this carefully on the pad. Never leave this for longer than necessary; the pad should be fixed properly.

If you notice that screws are coming out of your clarinet (they are very tiny, so check for them carefully), take a screwdriver (the kind used to fix glasses) and screw them back in. Be careful not to screw them in too tightly or you can hurt the mechanics of the clarinet.

If none of the notes in your left hand will speak, check the bridge keys on the side of the instrument. They may have overlapped incorrectly or they may have gotten bent. If they are overlapped incorrectly, take the instrument apart and put it back together carefully. If the keys are bent, gently try to bend them back. If you can't, or are afraid you'll hurt it, take it to a repairman to have the keys unbent. Always put your clarinet together carefully to avoid this problem.

If any part of your clarinet gets stuck together, find something cool and dry (cool metal works well) to rest your clarinet against for a few minutes. Then, grip it carefully on either side of the joint and twist. Rock it side to side slightly to try to break the seal, and continue to try to twist it off. If you can't, take it to a repairman. This is a sign that your clarinet has too much wood in the joint, and it should be cut down. Make an appointment to have the wood adjusted as soon as possible or your clarinet will continue to stick together (which is not good). Don't push your clarinet together so hard, use plenty of cork grease, and take it apart as soon as you're done playing in the meantime.

Different notes are squeaking or not speaking properly -- it may be your reed. Try using a different one to see if that helps. If it doesn't, your keys may be out of alignment. Take the instrument to a repairman for cleaning and overhauling.

Your clarinet cracks (usually in the top joint, near the barrel). Take it to a repairman immediately to be pinned. Don't expose it to cold air or any dramatic temperature changes. If it's cold outside, put it in its case and wrap that in a blanket or gig bag. Get information on keeping your clarinet oiled and out of extreme temperatures to prevent further cracking.

Your mouthpiece gets dropped. It may be fine, it may chip, or it may crack in half. If it breaks or chips, buy a new one.

There are many things that can go wrong with your clarinet. However, if you take good care of it, these things don't need to happen often if at all. Know a good repairman and keep in touch with him. Take your clarinet in for overhauling once a year, and follow your repairman's instructions on the care of your instrument.

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