Harmonica bending lesson - learn to play draw bends

Welcome to today’s harmonica lesson, where I’ll be teaching you how to bend the draw notes. This tutorial is intended for pucker players, as well as for those who use tongue blocking. In the video I provided you on this page, you’ll listen and practice bending on holes one, two, three, four, and six. Watch it and keep it as a reference during your bending practice sessions. The harmonica key used today is A.

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Bending is performed by changing the shape of your oral cavity, together with the shape of your tongue and its location. This technique is the beginner’s dream, and one of the most discussed topics in the study of harmonica. However, despite the hundreds of pages and videos that explain how to do it, every day, many new players as well as some advanced harmonicists ask for advice and instructions. As a harmonica teacher, I want to give you my contribution, explaining how to apply the bending technique according to my experience.

You need to be prepared, because to become good at bending notes, you’ll need to do a lot of practice – few people are able to achieve it in a short timeframe. Once you get the new notes down, you’ll also want to be able to play them along with the others when you play licks, otherwise you’ll have only wasted time. In this regard, if you want to improve bending once you get the new pitches, you can do so using my online school bending course.

For now, let’s look at how to bend the draw notes with the puckering method. While you draw, try to listen to the note you want to produce in your mind, then pull your tongue slowly toward the throat, almost as if you wanted to swallow it. In the same movement, the back of the tongue rises toward the soft palate – thus the airflow inside the oral cavity is modified and bending is produced. The more you send your tongue toward your throat, the more you can achieve a deep bend, suitable for the lowest notes. Conversely, to play half-tone bending, you just need a small movement of the tongue and everything happens in the front part of the mouth. Lifting the tongue modifies more the flow of air and the bending becomes deeper.

Here are some tips that will help you get bending down faster:

• Keep your lips steady on the harmonica but relaxed, and allow the instrument to slightly enter your mouth as you draw.

• The more you work at the back of the oral cavity, toward the throat, the more you get bending of low notes – for example, on hole 3, the bending of 1 and a half-tones.

• For half-tone bending, you can push the harmonica a little forward with the lips. Basically, the harmonica is further forward, whereas to bend wider, the harmonica is further back toward the mouth. To distance the harmonica from the oral cavity, use your lips, or tongue if you’re doing tongue blocking.

• To play half-tone bending, think about the pronunciation “Eee”. For whole-tone or a tone and a half, the pronunciation to think about deviates to “Ooo”.

Harmonica bending - regular note playing embouchure with puckering
Harmonica bending - bent draw note playing embouchure with puckering

As for the bending of the notes with tongue blocking, everything I explained above still applies, with the only difference being that the tongue remains on the surface of the harmonica holes and you only move its back. Bending with tongue blocking requires greater control of the tongue. In general, those who play using this technique find themselves with a more reinforced and agile tongue.

There are also some specific exercises that can be done to improve the use of the tongue when playing harmonica, and I’ll be talking about this in a future lesson. For now, I invite you to patiently practice, and I hope you’ll soon achieve your first bending.

Harmonica bending - regular note playing embouchure with tongue blocking
Harmonica bending - bent draw note playing embouchure with tongue blocking

Once you can play bends, try the following exercises, and don't forget to have a look at the blow bending lesson too!

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