Skip to main content

David's Tip of the Day: Reference Harmonica for Octaves and other Splits

David Barrett Admin's picture

We need to take a quick break from the transcription series today for a fellow student in need of help with octaves.

It can be difficult to know if what you’re playing is correct when experimenting with octaves and other splits. The most common split is the split-4, where you place your lips over four holes and block the two in the middle for what’s commonly an octave. But… the 2/5 (playing the 2 draw and 5 draw at the same time, with the tongue blocking holes 3 and 4) is not an octave and can be hard to hear if you’re playing it correctly due to its dissonant nature. How about when you’re playing an octave on the high draws, such s the 3/7 (split-5). Or how about a split-3, where you would play holes 2 and 4, only blocking hole 3 with the tip of your tongue?

Here’s my solution…
Grab a harmonica of the same key you’re playing and use it for reference. Use painter’s masking tape (will not leave a residue on the harmonica) and place it on the comb of the reference harmonica. Smoothen out the tape and press down the tape on the mouthpiece, making it easier to see the holes. Using a pencil, poke holes in the holes of the harmonica you want to sound. Now use the reference harmonica to hear what it’s supposed to sound like. Use your regular harmonica and try to match the same sound. Using the Filisko Tongue Block Trainer ( is also very helpful to see what your tongue needs to do.

I’ve posted a reference picture on our Facebook page at