Common Clarinet Emergencies and How to Fix Them

(Updated April 17, 2024)

Picture this: you’re having a productive practice session. Things are going smoothly, you’re feeling great, you’re even having a good reed day, and then…

Emergency strikes!

Clarinet players are bound to cross certain inevitable problems. Don’t panic! Here are a few common clarinet emergencies and how you can fix them:

  • My swab got stuck inside my clarinet! This is usually caused by the material wadding up inside the tube. Twist the pull several times to decrease the size of the material and carefully try to pull out. If it won’t budge, don’t go all Hulk on it – take it to a certified clarinet technician. Avoid this happening again by making sure the swab is not bunched up before it goes through the tube. I also use silk swabs, which are slicker and less likely to get caught inside.
  • My clarinet won’t come apart! This usually happens after an extended practice session. Let your clarinet sit out for a while before trying to take it apart again. Be sure to rock (not twist) the sections to avoid broken corks.
  • My tenon cork fell off! If you don’t have time to take it to a shop, you can use dental floss or tape in a pinch to wrap around the tenon.
  • A key/spring/pad fell off! If you see part of your clarinet come off, always try to locate where it fell to take in with you when you take it to the shop. This can sometimes save time for repair techs, who might otherwise have to order replacement parts.
  • My clarinet won’t make a sound! First, is it not making any sound at all, or just on certain notes? If it’s specific notes, this could be a leak or missing pad. Take it in to a qualified repair tech as soon as you are able.
  • My reed is chipped and I don’t have any other backups! First of all – shame on you! Always carry several reeds, because reeds are an erratic breed of monsters. Okay, lecture over. If the chip is on one side, you can adjust the reed so the cane more symmetrically covers the mouthpiece. Depending on how severe the chip is, there is no guarantee that this will work. If it’s a lost cause, beg your friends for a reed to use – then vow to always carry extras!

You never know what problems you will encounter as a musician, so I suggest preparing an emergency clarinet kit to carry with you at all times. Always be prepared (that motto isn’t just for Boy Scouts!). Whenever anything goes wrong, it’s definitely frustrating and anxiety-inducing, but remember that most clarinet emergencies are easily solved by qualified repair technicians.

Disclaimer: I’m a performer, teacher, and blogger – but I am certainly not a clarinet repair expert! These solutions have always worked for me and my students, but you should always consult a trusted technician for serious emergencies and clarinet maintenance.

I hope this helps the next time emergency strikes! What other clarinet emergencies have you encountered, and how did you solve them?



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