Tongue blocking or puckering – what’s the best way of playing harmonica?

Do you really think that there should be a better technique to play harmonica? Is ‘tongue blocking’ really a good option for classic style blues or is it just a habit? Can lip pursers learn to the former style? Though these questions can born in the mind of any harmonica player but newbies in particular, regardless of their level of learning.

Welcome to the current article extracted from - A Harmonica Teacher’s blog - . My name is Luciano Guida and today I’ll elaborate my beliefs and concepts on the topic: Tongue blocking or lip pursing – what matters the most?

In the beginning, I started playing harmonica with the puckering technique, like many other players, and I continued playing with this technique for a year almost; later I met my first teacher ever – David Barrett and it was then when I discovered the real tongue blocking.

For this very reason, I know exactly what I’m talking about and I completely understand all the perplexity that may arise in this situation: Should I keep continuing as before or do I need to abandon what I’ve gained so far and start learning the tongue blocking technique? Could I learn the technique of tongue blocking in parallel with puckering, perhaps I could alternate them? In my case, once I learned to play with tongue blocking, I never pursued lip pursing again; in fact, I abandoned it.

Meanwhile our transition from one technique to another, we unconsciously get convinced sometimes that some specific things couldn’t possibly be achieved with the newly learnt technique. For example: thinking that it’s better not to use the tongue if we want to play speedily – in fact, it may be right – so it’s true that playing overbending with tongue blocking can get really complicated. For execution, what’s the worth of every aspect and how to assign weight to each, entirely depends upon understanding and awareness. What I’ve experienced so far is that, I can do everything I need to do with tongue blocking, and yet I don’t feel the rush to go any faster or to play any extra notes: as a matter of fact, I prefer to focus on the totality of music, its phrasing and the building of licks etc.

To reassure all among you, who are still indecisive about learning tongue blocking, here are some key points for their consideration, that I believe will compel them towards adopting it with less hesitation:

• Tongue blocking isn’t as difficult as you think of it; most of the time it takes only 2 lessons to learn to play all the holes of a harmonica with this technique.

• Tongue blocking makes it possible to bend draw notes, as well as blow notes.

• Tongue blocking lets you play harmonica swiftly; you might immediately turn away the tongue in the beginning but it’s nothing more than a habit. Also, beware that when you express in terms of music, speed is one out of many tools that you’re equipped with, but it may not always be the most appropriate to use.

• If you've played harmonica with the puckering method first, it shall take you no longer than two weeks to get used to playing single notes with tongue blocking, more or less the same if you’ve never touched a harmonica before.

• Tongue blocking allows you to perform certain specific features that contribute to your performance, making it much more interesting by facilitating slaps, pulls, tongue flutters, and so on. 

I conclude this review by narrating an anecdote related to a student of mine. After playing individually for a few months, he joined me. He would never dare to put his tongue on the harmonica. During the second lesson, he turned desperate and said, "I can't do it... I can't play the single notes using the tongue: it's so difficult". "I was fine; I could play well without it...", he added. I asked him to calm down and said, "ok! for a moment, forget about your tongue and play just as you used to play before. I teach harmonica, and if you want me to teach you using a varied method, there will be certain things that you can't do but it doesn't matter.."

Do you know what happened? He panicked and couldn't play single notes even without involving his tongue. He was so overwhelmed with the thought that tongue blocking was complicated. This is what may occur when there's no one to hold your back or provide you with productive feedback: you could keep assuming that all is well when it isn't 

Hope to see you in the next article!

Share this page with your friends!