Learning To Play Your First Note On Harmonica
If you’re new to the harmonica, then you’ve likely picked one up and started blowing. The cool thing about the harmonica is that it doesn’t matter what or where you play because you’re always in the same key. Common keys like A, C, and G give you the chance to jam along with your favorite blues or country song, but you might be scratching your head a bit when it comes time for your solo. When it’s time to shine, and you want to play a specific tune, you’re going to need to know how to play single notes.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Playing single notes on the harmonica isn’t nearly as daunting as it may seem. When you practice playing your harmonica you may notice that it’s a lot easier to play two or three notes at a time as you slide up the comb. Learning the proper way to hold a harmonica, grasping skillful mouth control techniques, and developing a solid command over your breathing patterns will help you in your adventures in music. If you need something more in-depth, you can always explore some free online lessons to help you out.
How To Hold Your Harmonica
There are several ways to hold a harmonica and various musicians have certainly developed their own unique styles of play. Since you are just getting acquainted with your harmonica, we will keep it to the basics.
Fundamentally speaking, the harmonica is played with one hand. You may see players using two hands, but the right hand is used less for technical performance and more for effects. Make sure that you are holding your harmonica with your left and that the numbers above the hole should be numbered from lowest to highest going left to right.
With your left hand, use your index finger hand your thumb to form a C-shape that tightly grasps the top and bottom of the harmonica with each finger extending at an equal distance. Your harmonica should be pressed tightly against the webbing of your hand between your thumb and finger.
One common mistake is to hold the harmonica with your fingers too close to your mouth. Your index finger especially should be a little further back allowing ample space for your lips. This might seem inconsequential at first, but when you want to play a single note you’ll need room to practice the correct technique to isolate that single reed hole.
If you feel the need to incorporate your right hand, you can cup your right hand with your thumb to the right your fingers pointed upwards. Bend your fingers over the top of your left hand to form a clamshell shape. Your right hand is used for fun things like wah-wah effects
Breathing Patterns to Practice
Learn to breathe deeply from your diaphragm as opposed to your upper chest. Improperly breathing while playing harmonica is a good way to hyperventilate. If you practice deep sustained breathing, filling your entire chest and belly up with air, you’ll find that you gain a more consistent flow and increased control.
It’s also key to breathe naturally when playing the harmonica. When we put something in our mouth it’s common to have the inclination to suck with the front of our mouth. This isn’t what we want. Breathe with your lungs drawing air into the back of your throat.
You should never play too many notes with the same breath. Controlling your airflow and being consistent with each breath distribution will markedly improve your playing and help you play single notes more efficiently. Aim for no more than 3 or 4 notes per breath at first. Some play more while others play less, but it’s important to master the basics before moving on to more advanced techniques.
When you are playing the harmonica, there are two kinds of breathing that you’ll be using The first type is called a draw. Drawing is the act of breathing in to play a note or set of notes. The other type of breathing is blowing. This is exactly how it sounds. You blow by exhaling into the holes.
Isolating A Single Note With Lip Puckering
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to play one note right out of the gate. This takes practice and a little bit of experimentation on your part to find the right sweet spot (1). Lip pursing is one of the most common ways to isolate a note.
Position your lips puckered out as if you were whistling. Some may be tempted to purse their lips too nightly.
You’ll need to try various positions until you find what works for you. If you are still struggling to play a clean note, you might want to make sure that the note hole you’re trying to play is centered on your lips. If you are too far over in either direction, you’ll inadvertently play those notes as well.
Your tongue is mighty dexterous. You can use this to your advantage with a technique known as tongue-blocking. Unlike lip-puckering which isolates single notes with the shape of your lips, tongue-blocking uses your tongue to block the notes that you don’t want to be played by covering their holes. This particular playing style tends to be a bit difficult to master but comes in handy later on when learning vamping and bending techniques.
The advantage of tongue-blocking is that you need to move the harmonica less to cover more notes at a time. You can alternate between three notes without having to slide up the scale.
Review: Harmonica Primer by Tom Wolf
Tom Wolf is an acclaimed Grammy Nominee with a knack for teaching. If you’re a beginner and want to get a better look at exactly how to play one note on harmonica, Tom’s excellently written and executed Harmonica Primer book guides you gently through the basics.
When learning these basics, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much information. What this book does right is delicately nudging the fledgling player down an informative journey of all the essentials before introducing more complexity at a reasonable rate. Diagrams and illustrations help learn the various ways to hold the harmonica, breathing patterns, and covers single note playing in detail.
Before you know it, you’ll be learning scales, note bending, trills, and songs. Tom teaches you 30 songs that are sure to bring joy to your next campfire. If you’re just starting out and need a helping hand, this is the book you need.
Learning to play an instrument always comes with a tricky learning period. Many people give up early on as they face difficult obstacles to their progress. Learning to play a single note on the harmonica might not feel like the most intuitive thing in the world but once you’ve perfected this task you’ll be belting out beautiful tunes in no time, and you’ll be on your way to Learning How to Play Pentatonic Scales. Practice makes perfect. Take your time and be patient with yourself. You got this!