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Air escaping sound

I think it's the dream of every clarinetist to play without that distracting air sound escaping from the instrument.

My question:

For this problem not to occur, does it make a difference what kind of instrument you're using, and how expensive it is?

For example, would the same performer play with less air noise on a higher-end clarinet than on say a Selmar Prelude?



Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I recommend using the Selmar Series 01 and or the Mark IV, myself.

There's an awful lot of ground that you're covering with that question. You've got everything from playing style to player error to instrument problems. Can you be a bit more specific?


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
excluding air escaping from the mouthpiece area which is distinctly an embouchure issue (not taking in enough mouthpiece in accordance with the mpc design), alot of the air escaping sounds is attributed to the setup of the instrument.

For instance, if a pad is too close to the tonehole this can create a air hissing sound.
Also, if cork pads are installed an a bit too close and the corners are not rounded on the pad, this can create an issue.

basically any pad that is too close can affect the airflow out of the tonehole and create a airy sound.
This excludes any buzzing sound which can easily be created by the pad material itself buzzing in the airflow.

But if you like to really push a ton of air through the instrument you may still have these issues.
Also too close of pads can create notes to be flat.

One particular note to test is a E just below the staff T x00-000 This note is a good test on the setup of the instrument.
For instance, the note may have air escaping sounds and may sound stuffy or even flat.

If you rotate the clarinet upper and lower joints so that the bridge key is not part of the mechanism anymore you will notice that they key now opens alot more. Then play it and note how it sounds. If it sounds alot more open and less airy then the cork material under the lower joint bridge key is too thick (or the pad is installed too low in the pad cup).

This would also be the issue if the C sounds airy T xxx-ooo as the silencing material under the lower joint bridge key is too thick (and/or the pad is installed too low from the pad cup). So if one simply uses some sandpaper (220 or 300 grit works good for this) to thin the cork material (cut a small strip and move it back and forth under the bridge key, blow it away, and retest the tone until you like it).

But many clarinets I've seen simply have too much cork thickness in many areas of setup.
On lower cost setups this is usually the problem in all areas of the clarinet.
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Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
As mentioned by Pete, air sound may be a stylistic trait...


and not a bad one as that.

Yes, except the OP's first statement was
I think it's the dream of every clarinetist to play without that distracting air sound escaping from the instrument.
Thus I assumed that he did not want this trait in his playing. It is a style that I do when playing tenor sax in certain pieces, but for the most part on classical clarinet one is looking for no airy sound.

And as mentioned, many times it can be the mechanical setup of the instrument.

Excluding the mechanical setup, to get an airy sound it is quite easy. Use a harder reed. This in itself will give you a more airy sound and also require you to use much more air support than you are used to.
SteveSklar, thank you so much for the long, comprehensive breakdown. How kind of you to take the time and explain everything to me. I imagine that you're probably a great teacher/professor. I learned a lot from your post and will be happy to do further research to find an effective way to deal with this.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
Thank you, Pete. I was just trying to find out if a better (more expensive) clarinet would make it easier to deal with the hissing issue.
One thing to keep in mind, student clarinets normally have smaller diameter toneholes to accommodate smaller fingers of younger players.
Thus when we talk about air pressure, the air flow out of the toneholes would be greater assuming the "ALL" else is the same (bore, mouthpiece, reed, player blowing, etc). Thus a higher airflow would also create more of an air issue on student clarinets (assuming setup etc etc etc) theoretically than professional designed instruments.

Here is an example of tonehole diameter differences

I only blueprint toneholes / bores etc of professional clarinets and not student / intermediate but I do take calipers to them once in a while just for my own curiosity, thus I came to the conclusion that students toneholes are smaller. But that was the design philosophy from yesteryear, I'm not sure if today's student/intermediate clarinets hold the same philosophy. basically your mileage will vary dependent upon the make and model of clarinet and how it was designed.

But, as previously mentioned, many times there are setup issues on clarinets. I find too thick off cork in virtually all keys where there are tonal / intonation issues.
Thank you. As I try to minimize this sound in my own performance, I pay attention to what other musicians sound like... I've noticed that very often even highly accomplished clarinetists get that awkward hissing sound, more often around the lower staff (first line) E And F.

I think the modern clarinet will probably need a few more innovations to address this issue. It might be barely audible in orchestral performances, but in a more intimate chamber setting it's a real annoyance to the ear.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
One thing I used to do is to record myself at various distances. Say 10 feet and then 20 feet away.
Then compare it to what I hear playing the instrument itself.

At 20 feet some of those annoyances go away.

It's been stated in the past that some conductors prefer certain tonal characteristics of the clarinet. For instance, if you have a FullBoehm clarinet and play a long Bb they may insist that the player use the throat Bb which is more shallow and thin than a long Bb. Many clarinet innovations have been done in the past which actually make notes sound better. But due to all the university level professors out there taught a certain way they seem to strictly adhere to the standard boehm configuration.

It's quite interesting if you look at the various keywork configurations used int the past, such as a few identified here

or even modern clarinets such as the Buffet Divine & Tosca. http://buffet-crampon.com/en/content/tosca?f=48&l=10,11,12
Even a model such as the Selmer Signature http://www.clarinetperfection.com/clsnSelmerParis.htm#Signature
offers "innovations" to improve the tone and response ... if one likes it in their implementation.

But I understand what you mean about everything. For chamber music (without other clarinets) I prefer my Leblanc LL. For most everything else I use an R13 or RC Prestige


Old King Log
Staff member
When I play my full "Boehm" horns, I never use the "long Bb" unless it's in an otherwise awkward passage. While the effect to the listener may be minimal, it sounds "bad" to me, the operator. The throat Bb is a note that needs a lot of help from resonation and the like, but it is still more consistent with the output of the rest of the horn.

I too have experimented with recording at distance, and note that the various artifacts of clarinet operation tend to die out when you get ten feet away.

If you ever get too concerned about how we sound, my recommendation is to listen what's issuing from the bassoon section. I have a recording of a bassoon quintet doing a variety of musical numbers, and the "machinery noises" coming out of the speaker are distracting to whoever listens to it. I enjoy all of the stork-like clicking and clacking - further proof that the clarinet is not the most primitive wind instrument.
I enjoy all of the stork-like clicking and clacking - further proof that the clarinet is not the most primitive wind instrument.
Oh, yeah! I enjoy that too. Even the audible breathing sound is enjoyable. Somehow it makes the music sound more genuine. The hissing, though, is always distracting and takes away from the quality of the performance.