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A painful visage

Harmonica players as well as other wind instrument players won't find it uncommon to face a couple of physical ailments occasionally. Among these problems, two are more commonly observed in beginner harmonica enthusiasts. i.e. cold sores also known as labial herpes and the dry mouth symptom. In most cases these annoying inconveniences are easy to deal with and they don't really keep you from playing the music, but sometimes, especially during the beginning session of practice they can really hinder your performances, labial herpes being the culprit in particular.

Let's take a closer look at them to figure out how these two problems can be managed in the perspective of harmonica playing.

Labial herpes or cold sore is caused by a virus called HSV-1 and is defined as type 1 herpes simplex. Once you get infected, it stays in your body and gets out on your lips cyclically especially when your immunity system is lower as in stress situations. Everybody is familiar with the labial herpes and there are many informative resources available about how to treat it, however, you should know that there are some medical treatments that can almost keep it dormant. This is good to know because, if for example you have to perform on a particular day, you can prevent the cold sore outbreak by just taking a little dose of acyclovir 2-3 days before the show.

What students and harmonica players ask around sometime is if playing it while you have a cold sore dangerous? and if it could infect the harp? Well... This kind of virus can last up to 8 weeks on a dry surface, better if the surfaces are organic. For this reason a plastic harmonica comb is safer but don't worry! there is some good news for us (the harmonica players). First of all, you will not get infected by your harmonica again when your labial outbreak is over, secondly, alcohol can kill the virus present on the surface of harmonica. The only real problem that you might have when you have a cold sore is due to the mechanical action of the instrument on your lips. It is better to take rest and do not rub them against harmonica. Whenever you get a virus outbreak, take a break from the instrument and take advantage of this time to study theory or listen to the music you wish to play, analyze it etc. There are a lot more activities out there for a passionate musician.

Discussing the frequency of that outbreak episode; if you notice an increase, that would be a symptom of stress. Get some rest, it's not your harmonica that is giving you the cold sores, it's just that you are pushing it too hard on yourself sometime. To wrap up the topic, keep your harmonica clean, practice and rest on alternate intervals and don't scrape your lips when hurt. Take precaution in handing over your harmonica to other people, they could be infected.

Let's talk now about the second issue a harmonica player can encounter: the dry mouth. When you play a wind instrument, one condition could be that you produce saliva more than usual, and it tends to collect on the floor of your mouth where it remains until swallowed.This phenomenon is  common especially when you feel anxiety during performances and it may lead to dry mouth which interferes with your ability to play harmonica.The duration of performance and practice, increased anxiety and constant intake of air give raise to the need for more fluid intake. In other words, you produce saliva which stays in your mouth, and instead of being swallowed keeping hydrating your oral cavity and throat.

Here are some tips to manage this issue:

1. Drink plain water in place of other drinks.

2. Learn how to take advantage of the pauses during your lick playing sequence to swallow the saliva.

3. Work on your embouchure. Remember! the more perfectly you seal the harmonica surface with your lips the less air will get into your mouth when you draw notes, especially through its lateral sides. Consequently there would be less dryness in your oral cavity.

4. Learn how to control your anxiety especially when you are about to perform. Many people face this issue. If you equip yourself with some relaxing techniques and practise them regularly, it would be of great help.

If dry mouth isn't your issue but too much saliva is your problem instead, resulting in making harmonica too wet then don't forget to read the article on saliva management and cut lips issues available here:

Saliva management and cut lips issues in harmonica players.  - Privacy and Cookie Policy