Do I have to move my head when I perform a shake or just the harmonica? Can I improve my fast licks by playing with some lip movements? What’s the best way to play well without wasting energy? Welcome to my harmonica teaching blog! This article could be defined as a real harmonica lesson, as today, I’ll be sharing with you some precious tips about playing this instrument. Specifically, we’re going to talk about movements and how to use your body when performing.
I want to open this tutorial with one particular sentence: “First, you have to learn to walk straight with a book balanced on your head.”
Let’s start from a universal concept: whatever musical instrument you study, you shouldn’t waste any energy on exaggerated movements. Guitarists call it flying fingers when a beginner moves too many of their fingers away from the guitar. Even pianists don’t lift too much of their hands from the keyboard, and this same concept can be applied to virtually all musicians. So why is this concept so important? Simply because larger movements require more time and energy to carry out, and this is always reflected in the execution of playing as a whole.
When we play the harmonica, we’re dealing with movements that only require a few centimeters or even millimeters. For example, think about when we use two adjacent holes – sometimes, we don’t even have to move at all. From this perspective, it’s very important for a beginner to practice properly in front of a mirror. When you do your exercises, verify that you’re making only the necessary movements and no more. In fact, you should always try to economize all your movements so as to play most accurately.
I often watch people playing by jumping from one hole of the harmonica to another using the head. However, this way of playing is wrong! Why move your head, which weighs an average of 5kg, instead of the harmonica itself, which weighs 80g? Do you have any idea about how much effort you waste in using all those neck muscles to achieve this? In this case, it’s not a matter of personal taste. We often hear people say things like “everyone has their own way,” but this is purely about logic. Remember,learning to play a musical instrument is a discipline!
It should be the harmonica that you move with your hands in front of your mouth, trying to keep the instrument straight and not tilting it in a strange way. For those who play with tongue blocking, the jaw should not move left and right,as it’s the tongue that moves inside the mouth to close the holes. If you observe an experienced tongue blocker playing on the first 2 holes of the harmonica, from the outside you’ll see nothing – the mouth appears steady while the tongue does the switching.
So are there times when the head also moves? Sure! As you use the muscles of the lips, you sometimes make micro-movements with the head during quick steps, but these are advanced techniques that come after years of experience, certainly not suitable for beginners. First, you have to learn to walk straight with the book on your head, remember? Then, you can afford to relax and devise some tricks to be more comfortable.
When you gain experience and begin to know your body and the harmonica in-depth, it becomes natural to help yourself in performing a warble with a small head movement, as well as when you have to jump from one hole to a distant one, to increase the relative speed. Other times, you might even avoid moving the harmonica and just tilt it slightly to the cheek to play a hole adjacent to the one on which you’re placed. All this will come spontaneously, and with dedicated time and practice. Have a look at the video on this page and notice how I save on moving! Happy studying!