Why Does My Saxophone Sound Airy? (How to Fix IT)

Why Does My Saxophone Sound Airy
Written by Corey Morgan

Why Does My Saxophone Sound Airy?

Once as beautiful as saxophones are, twice as complicated. These instruments can have as many as 600 pieces, which enables you to have granular control over their sound but also makes them susceptible to a wide variety of problems and complications.

A number of these have something to do with the saxophone’s sound coming out airy, spitty, squeaky, or muffled, etc. While there may be a combination of factors at play, it is essential to zero in on the specific cause of your horn’s faulty sound before attempting any repairs.

What Causes My Saxophone to Have an Airy Sound

Reed placement is a significant contributor to the possibility that there is something not quite right about the sound produced by your saxophone.

There’s also the possibility that the reed is too difficult to play or that it’s out of balance. In addition, there is a possibility that the horn itself has a leak, and in extremely unusual cases, the positioning of the reed or the ligature on the mouthpiece could be the culprit.

One of the less frequent causes is a faulty octave mechanism, a poor quality mouthpiece, or a bad embouchure. As you can see, the diagnosis and, consequently, the solution, might differ. In addition, I will walk you through virtually every feasible scenario, as well as the actions you can take in response to each one, here in this guide.

1. A Faulty Reed – The Most Common

The reed of your saxophone may be faulty, which is the most prevalent cause of an airy sound produced by the instrument. This comprises characteristics such as dryness, stiffness, imbalance, or warping.

Because the composition of your reed plays such a significant role in the uniformity of its tone, it is only natural that you should be aware of this fact. For this reason, you are more likely to experience this problem with a cane reed than you are with a synthetic one.

Your horn will sound airy across all ranges, not just when you place a specific one, which is the biggest giveaway when it comes to proving that the airy sound is caused by a faulty reed.

2. Dryness

This only presents a difficulty with cane reeds, and it is possible that this contributes to the airiness. The answer is to moisten the reed, which can be done by either warming up or submerging it in water for a few minutes.

Reeds made of plastic or some other synthetic material are another option for completely sidestepping this problem. However, you should keep in mind the distinctions between cane reeds and synthetic ones when making your choice.

3. Stiffness

If you are already playing your horn or if you have tried switching to a plastic reed but you are still hearing an airy sound coming from your horn, it is possible that your reed is dry and stiff at the same time.

Assuming that you have already completed the process of breaking in your reed, the next step in playing with the cane reed is to try reed modification. This will allow you to continue playing with the reed.

In addition to that, you need to make sure that you are storing your reed in the correct manner. This means that the object must be contained within a container that is elevated on a surface made of glass or ridges in order to maintain its hydration and prevent it from warping.

The two things mentioned above are checked for dryness? Check reed modifications. This may be of assistance in overcoming both stiffness and imbalance. And despite the fact that this may not be the simplest skill to pick up, it will end up saving you some money in the long run and will help you avoid giving your horns an airy tone.

4. Either the Mouthpiece or the Ligature Isn’t Properly Placed on the Mouthpiece

If you are still relatively new to the world of saxophones, there is a good chance that you might be struggling with the issue of inappropriate positioning, which is both extremely basic and quite common. Bear in mind that the typical result of this issue is that the sound of airiness is inconsistent.

You can begin by taking out the mouthpiece and holding it in an upright position, so that it is perpendicular to the ground. Then, you can check to see if the tips of the mouthpiece and the reed are aligned. Observe if a small bit of silver protrudes from the mouthpiece tip, the two tips tightly aligned, from behind the reed.

If there was an excessive amount of silver exposed, the sound would be airy, just as it would be if you couldn’t see the tip at all. In light of this, you need to experiment by moving your reed higher or lower on the mouthpiece to hear how the change impacts the sound.

In addition to this, it might also be helpful to make sure that the sides of the reed and the flat area of the mouthpiece are aligned with one another. Otherwise, some air might escape, which would result in a poor sound quality.

And it’s not only the reed’s improper placement but also that of the ligature. Your ligature needs to be positioned so that it is over the section of the mouthpiece that is the thickest. In addition, it shouldn’t be loosened or tightened an excessive amount in order to allow space for the reed to vibrate without the reed becoming detached from the setup.

5. Leaks are highly common.

If there are only a few notes that sound airy, there is a good possibility that your instrument has a leak somewhere. The G# key is one of the most frequently used culprit keys since it will cause resistance on any key that is played below it. Sometimes it will affect the keys below it without really causing the G# to sound off by itself.

Listening for a airy sound below a certain note and a regular sound from the horn above that note is a good approach to confirm if this is the case. In addition, if the leak is in the palm key, the higher notes will play correctly, but the notes in the lower range will have a airy sound to them.

You may also try closing all the keys on the horn while standing in a dark room and shining a flashlight into the top of the instrument to determine whether or not any light will shine through the keyholes when the keys are opened. If this is the case, then the holes in the keys through which you can see the light are the cause of the leak.

Playing on a different instrument while utilizing the same setup (mouthpiece, reed, and ligature) is yet another foolproof method of confirmation. If every note seems to be playing correctly, then the problem is most likely coming from within your own instrument. In that scenario, you’ll need to pay a visit to the repair shop.

There are instances when the octave key in particular is the one that is leaking, or its mechanism lags behind after it has been pressed, which also makes an airy sound.

Try playing low G followed by low A in a slow alternating pattern to determine if the problem is with the octave key in particular. After you have done that step once, you should repeat it again but this time add the octave key, switching between the G and the A above the staff.

Changes of a significant kind while you are doing so suggest that there is an issue with the octave key mechanism. This suggests that you should take your instrument to a repair shop as soon as possible.

6. Poor Mouthpiece Quality – Rare

Even though this isn’t a particularly typical diagnosis for airy sounds, it doesn’t harm to rule out any possible problems. If you use a student saxophone with an inexpensive mouthpiece, the sound that you produce will most likely be thin and airy. Especially if you’re using a plastic mouthpiece instead of a rubber one, as they’re more likely to cause inconsistencies.

Not to mention the fact that mouthpieces that have chambers that are relatively smaller offer reduced resistance, which minimizes any airiness that may be present in the sound of the instrument.

7. Improper embouchure or air support

It’s possible that you’re still working on your embouchure and air support if you’re a total beginner, which could cause some air to escape from the corners of your lips. If this is the case, you should try practicing more.

If you wish to correct this issue, you should make sure that you are exerting the same amount of pressure on the mouthpiece in every direction. Before you blow into the horn, you should also try to straighten your top and bottom teeth and take longer breaths. This will help you blow more effectively.


When you hear an airy sound coming from your saxophone, the first thing you need to ask yourself is whether or not you can hear it across the entire range of the saxophone, or if it is simply produced by certain notes on the instrument.

If it’s only a few notes, it’s definitely a leak somewhere, but if it’s the entire range, there’s a problem with the setup or the way you’re playing the instrument. The first option requires a trip to the repair shop, while the second requires some trial and error to identify the source of the airiness in the setup and then take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation.