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Learn tongue blocking on harmonica - extensive tutorial

When you start to learn harmonica, playing a single note clearly could be really hard. This applies not only to puckers, but to tongue blockers also. Sometimes, tongue blocking technique may appear rather difficult to carry out, but let me assure you one thing that it’s true until you make it your habit. Once, you get used to it; it becomes so naturally a part of your routine that you utilize it and don’t even realize that you’re using it.

Learning to play single notes may take up to 2 weeks. In case, if you happen to take up a real lesson with a teacher in person; it would be a wonderful way to save time and still master it in a few days, but what I’m going to give you in the current lesson; is all the information you need to start by yourself. Don’t hesitate to contact me, if you need any assistance in this regard.

Let’s observe closely how to play ‘tongue blocked single notes’ on the harp. There are three recommended positions for your tongue to adopt when required:

Position 1: when playing holes 3 to 10, we cover the holes that must be blocked; i.e. the holes on the left, with the upper part of the tongue closer to the tip, and leave the right hole free. We don’t use tip of our tongue if we need to cover two or three holes, as we need a slightly larger surface area of our tongue to serve the purpose. As an indication, put your tongue on the vertical separator between holes 2 and 3, if you want to play hole 4. The tongue will cover three holes: i.e.1, 2 & 3.

How to play holes 3 to 10 with tongue blocking on harmonica

Position 2: when playing hole 2; the embouchure must be smaller and tip of the tongue should be positioned on hole 1.

When playing hole 2 draw, keep your throat relaxed so that the back of your oral cavity gets expanded. Don’t suck, JUST BREATHE.

How to play hole 2 with tongue blocking on harmonica

Position 3: when playing hole 1, we switch our tongue to touch the right side of our mouth, in this case, the point where our upper and lower lips meet. The tongue covers the holes edgeways with its left side.

How to play hole 1 with tongue blocking on harmonica

You must have witnessed that in order to play single notes on harmonica, you are compelled to work on your embouchure, it’s shape, size or both; not to mention, a need to adjust position of your tongue, especially the part of it which is used to cover the holes. It’s advisable to take out plenty of your time to practise it with patience and you’ll definitely master it ultimately.

Given below are some useful tips, following them will help students accomplish main phase of their learning process.

- The rule of the funnel: Think of your embouchure as a funnel; when you push the harp a little bit away from your mouth – using your tongue whereby placing your lips on it at the same time to seal it – your embouchure becomes smaller. This helps in isolating single notes.

- The shape of your mouth has a big impact on single notes: if you shape the lips as if you are going to kiss someone (smaller and rounder shape), your embouchure becomes more selective. Instead, if you shape your lips as you do while smiling; the embouchure becomes wider which is actually more appropriate for playing chord. Remember: when you are using smaller embouchure for playing your harp, you are actually shaping up your lips in pretty much same way as you do when you pucker.

- Does the right corner of your mouth makes a barrier between the hole you aim to play and the hole to its right, which you don’t want to get played. For instance, if you are playing hole no. 4 but you hear hole no. 5 playing also; the solution: sheer movement of right corner of your lips slightly to the left will suffice.

- Hole 2 isn’t broken: most beginners can’t play 2 draw well. It’s quite normal. Keep your throat relaxed and let the lateral part of the oral cavity expand. Slightly tilt your head backwards as if you want to look at the ceiling: play in this position, it will open up your oral cavity. Pay attention to the rear position of your tongue, it shouldn’t obstruct the air flow. Move that part of your tongue to find the correct place for it to fit in. Let the time take its course as this may take several days.

Tongue blocking - the funnel embouchure
How to play double notes on harmonica with the tongue blocking

Now that you know how to play single notes on the harp, practice them to create some simple melodies. Your first harmonica melodies ever!

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