If you have ever played the saxophone, you might have encountered a problem where you play your instrument and it produces a distorted, crackling, or “spitty” sound. Although this can be distressing, especially right before or during a performance, the good news is that it is a common problem for saxophonists and the root of the issue is quite simple.
Here are 7 easy techniques you can use to stop your saxophone from sounding “spitty”:
- Suck out the moisture.
- Force moisture out of the neck.
- Check your reed.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Keep your mouthpiece clean.
- Regularly clean the interior of your saxophone.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Before you start using any of these strategies on your saxophone, it is important to understand why it is producing that sound in the first place. Each saxophone is different and having a better understanding of the source if your sax’s sound issue can help you better decide what the best solution is. Here I will go more in-depth into the possible reasons for that “spitty” sax sound and how each technique can be helpful in fixing it.
Suck Out the Moisture
In the most cases, this “spitty” sound is caused by a buildup of excess moisture produced by blowing hot air into your instrument. Yes, saliva could also be a culprit but, for the most part, the sound is created by condensation from your breath.
A classic way to eliminate built-up condensation from your saxophone is simply to create a tight seal around the mouthpiece and to suck all moisture out. If you are in the middle of a performance or don’t have time to take apart your instrument, this is the quickest fix. Some musicians do it as a regular practice – sucking moisture out after playing each phrase or section. Over time, it becomes a habit and it helps to know that most of the condensation is not actually spit but water vapor.
Force Moisture Out of the Neck
This trick works best if most of the condensation is built up in the neck bend of your sax. If the idea of inhaling moisture is too much for you and you are able to inconspicuously take apart your sax, then pop off the neck and either knock it against your leg to jostle the moisture out or blow in the large hole under the base to force out condensation that has built up in the neck bend.
Check Your Reed
The reed is indisputably the most crucial part of the saxophone. You won’t be able to produce that smooth saxophone sound without one – the sound is generated by the reed vibrating when you blow through the mouthpiece. Your reed can have a number of issues that could cause it to produce a distorted sound so if your sax is adopting that “spitty” tone, check for the following factors:
1. Make sure the reed is positioned correctly.
The best position for the reed is dead center. If the reed is placed too low, then you will have less control over your tonguing technique as well as the air you are blowing. This can contribute to a distorted, dull, or breathy tone.
In order to check your reed’s positioning, look directly up the reed and mouthpiece. You will only want to see a small sliver of your mouthpiece peeking out from behind the reed. If you see a lot of the mouthpiece, then your reed is too low.
2. Make sure the reed is not oversaturated.
If your reed is made from natural cane wood, you normally moisten it with water before playing so that it is pliable enough for vibration. However, it is possible to oversaturate your cane reed. You want moist, not soaking.
You can easily fix this by either pushing it against the flat of the mouthpiece to squeeze out excess moisture or wiping it down with a clean towel after soaking or playing.
3. Make sure the reed is not too hard.
The opposite problem can happen with your reed if it is not pliable enough. If the particular reed that you’re using is too hard, it can cause you to bite too much with your jaw to compensate when playing – creating a muffled, airy sound. The hardness of a reed is indicated by the strength level – usually ranging from 1.5 – 4.0.
4. Change the reed.
No matter how many fixes you try and do, you could have a case of a “bad reed”. Since cane reeds are made from natural materials, no two reeds are exactly the same. Your reeds may not fit well with your particular sax – the material is too hard, or it is too warped from moisture. Try different reeds in your kit or buy a new brand.
Although most of the time the culprit of the “spitty” sound is water condensation, there are times when it is saliva. When you are dehydrated, your saliva actually thickens due to the lack of fluids in your body. Combine that with blowing forcefully and you could clog your saxophone. To avoid this nasty situation, make sure you’re drinking enough water before performing.
Keep the Mouthpiece Clean
Besides the reed, the mouthpiece is going to get the brunt of condensation buildup since it comes into direct contact with your mouth. It is important to clean your mouthpiece regularly. Here is the best cleaning method:
- Remove the reed.
- Use a mouthpiece brush, bottle brush, or even a small toothbrush to scrub off any residue.
- Run water through the mouthpiece and then pull a clean, lint-free cloth through to dry it.
- For deep cleaning, soak the mouthpiece in alcohol, mouthwash, or water with vinegar.
Regularly Clean the Interior
Another way to prevent the buildup of condensation, as well as prevent bacteria or mold from growing inside your sax, is to regularly clean its interior. If your saxophone does not come with a cleaning kit, it is strongly advised that you go out and purchase one. This one, in particular, is less than $15 and has a 4.5-star rating.
Here is a step-by-step process of how to clean your saxophone’s interior.
- Swab the body. Most cleaning kits come with a brush or cloth on a long string with a weight on the other end. Insert the weighted end into the bell of the saxophone and pull it out the skinnier end. Swab the interior by pulling the cloth back and forth.
- Swab the neck. Insert another flexible swab through the wider end of the sax’s neckpiece and swab back and forth with the same motion.
- Pad savers are your friend. Pad savers are extremely useful for removing excess moisture after cleaning. Insert one through the body’s narrower end, let it sit and absorb any moisture, and then remove. This pad saver is made out of soft and durable microfiber and has a 4.5-star rating.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, one of the best ways to prevent your saxophone from sounding “spitty” is to simply practice more with your instrument. Depending upon how demanding the music pieces are that you are playing, you may not have developed the muscles in your face and lungs enough to sustain a good tone. Your muscles also could be tired from playing for a prolonged period of time. You may also be pushing out your breath or tonguing your reed in a way that is producing more saliva or hot air than you need. The more you practice, the more aware of your capabilities you are, and the more you’ll understand when to take a break.