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David's Tip of the Day: Relax for Better Tone/Technique

David Barrett Admin's picture

Here are some tips to help you relax when playing the harmonica. Attention to these elements will improve your tone (tense muscles create a restricted airways = poor tone) and speed (tense muscles are slower, especially in regards to drag when pressing your hands, mouth or tongue onto the harmonica).

1 - Take a couple deep breaths. This relaxes your entire body, importantly your neck and shoulder muscles, which tend to hurt after extended play.

2 - When working on your cupping (amplified or acoustic) focus on the angle of your hands (in all dimensions) so that it’s more about the meeting of your two hands and less about squeezing to create an airtight cup.

3 - Open mouth, insert harmonica. Don’t pucker to bring your lips to the harmonica, open your mouth, tilt the face of the harmonica downwards slightly (so that you’re presenting the face of the harmonica at a more ergonomic angle to the top of your tongue) and bring the harmonica into your mouth. Good tone is created from an open embouchure with the middle and back of the tongue lowered.

4 - Use a light touch with your tongue on the face of the harmonica. If you feel like you have to push to create a single note tongue block, use more of the top of the tongue, which is wider.

5 - Play softly… your tone will improve and your harmonicas will last longer.

6 - Turn your amp way up and play at 40% of your capable volume. Let your 40% be your “normal” volume, giving you great dynamic range (and again saving $ on harmonicas)

7 - If you play with a band, ask everyone to play at a lower level (good luck with this). Everyone will hear more of the details in the music and you’ll no longer have to play loud all the time, sacrificing the cool nuances you can create on the harmonica.