While a player can always widen
his or her mouth over several
holes (usually at the physical
limit of five) and play chords
and intervals all the time, the
music usually sounds better when
the melody is played one note at
a time; while intervals may
sound great for most beginner
songs (usually written in the
key of C or G, easily played on
a key of C harmonica) as it
"thickens" the sound, songs that
are just slightly more advanced
will sound weird if the interval
is done improperly.
Standard Tongue block
This embouchure is favoured
by many skilled players, as there are many effects that can
only be done by using tongue block, and, in fact, necessary
for jazz and classical playing. Simply put, it involves
stretching the mouth over about four to five holes, and then
using the tongue to block the holes.
On the other hand, since this is the most
difficult embouchure, there are many methods of achieving it.
A few useful tips that will help greatly:
- Bring the harmonica deep in your mouth. If the
mouthpiece hasn’t penetrated past the front teeth, you
need to open your mouth wider and get the whole
front of the harp pushed further back in the mouth.
This has two effects: it gives you a fuller sound,
and allow your breath to access to several holes.
- Tilt the harmonica so that the mouthpiece is
tilted downward; that way, you can use more of the
tongue to block, and you will find the technique less
- Push the tongue to the harmonica. Don’t put the tip
of your tongue, but instead touch the tip of your tongue
to your lower front teeth and gently push the tongue
forward so that the top of your tongue contacts the
harmonica. This will allow smooth transition as moving
hole to hole.
- After you place your stretched mouth over the
holes, jerk the tongue to the left on higher octaves,
and to the right on lower octaves - then place the
tongue over the holes, such that only one hole is opened
for air. If you have problems of doing both side,
try jerking the tongue to the left only
If it seems like you are making more than one sound,
either press the tongue wider on the harp, or narrow your lips.
- Allows playing of octaves, side-pull,
pull, slap, self accompaniment, and many
- Allows legato and fast phrasing
- Louder volume; Lips can create higher
pressure on the harmonica, which can
create higher pressure in the cavity of mouth.
- Allow changing tonal quality through
manipulation of oral cavity
- Allow longer playing; tongue block
allow air flow into the mouth
- Harder to bend with the tongue (but not
impossible, if one can control airflow properly)
- Harder to utilize free-tongue specific
techniques (such as singing into the harp)
This is probably the instinctive single-note placing
most players adapted: the lips narrowed to a small hole, so
that the breath was directed into one hole at a time.
- Learning curve is small (as I said,
- Frees up the tongue for many other
Blues-oriented effects, such as bending, tongue
vibrato, and singing into the harp
- Good for very short staccato passages
- Difficult to play legato, since it
actually involves moving the entire harmonica
from side to side.
- Lack or surplus of air can only be
maintained through the nose.
However, in blues, a different lip block is used:
- Stretch your mouth across approximately 3-4 holes
- Tilt the rear of the harmonica upward (or tilt
the mouthpiece-side downward), such that the
lower lips can contact with the comb, which should
properly block the non-playing hole on the both
side of the current hole.
- Upper lips should be on top of the upper cover plate.
- Same as pucker, but allow even more throat
techniques (e.g. throat vibrato) and bending (as
now you can also use your lips to control the
- Same as pucker, plus difficult to control the
proper tone, since bending is now very easy.
- Not as loud since it's easy for the lips
to get in the way, quieting the reeds.
A complementation option require much greater dexterity
on the tongue; curl your tongue into a "U", and use it to direct
the airflow to the holes.
- provide fast speed
when moving up and down
- Require much more concentration; if one
did not focus enough, there will be no airflow
toward the hole.
- Require throat bending
- Unable to utilize tongue block specific techniques.
The U-block should be used mainly as a complement of the
tongue block, as it allow rapid switching of notes that lies
between the two outermost notes.
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