Troubleshooting Common Difficulties
There are several common difficulties that you may experience when learning to play the harmonica. For example, draw 1, 2 or 3 may sound muted, airy, distorted, or flat. Other notes may sound shrill, unclear or might not play at all. Many players assume that there is something wrong with the harmonica. However, it is usually improper playing technique that is causing the problem. You can overcome these problems with practice and by learning correct playing technique, correct positioning of the tongue/oral cavity and developing proper breath control.
Difficulty with 2 & 3 draw notes is the most common problem. Beginners and even some experienced players may have problems with the 2 & 3 draw. This is because the 2 & 3 draw reeds bend more than the other draw reeds. Bending is an advanced playing technique that occurs when we constrict the air flow. This results in varying tones and notes, delivering greater musical expression. Bending notes does not refer to bending the reeds physically.
Tech stuff: What makes a bend happen? And what governs whether or not a reed will bend and by how much? Each chamber shares two reeds, a blow and draw reed, which interact with each other. When the two reeds are more than a semitone apart, the higher pitched of the two reeds, as in draw hole #2 and draw hole #3 (with proper technique) will produce the bent note, or notes.
However, when a beginner constricts the air flow too much by using improper technique, the note will sound muted, airy, distorted or flat because they are bending the reed accidentally. Some brands of harmonicas are made with a less exacting design or inferior quality materials and will have air leakage and poor reed response. These leaky harmonicas require a player to use a lot of air to get the reeds to respond. Lee Oskar Harmonicas are designed and manufactured to be very airtight using a plastic comb and high quality materials that provide reeds with very responsive action. However, because our reeds are so sensitive, sometimes even an experienced player may encounter problems because they are constricting the air too much, out of habit. This is especially common if they have been playing other brands of harmonicas that are less airtight.
Refer to the chart below for further help if you are experiencing these problems.
Remember, take your time and practice each step and technique.
embouchure is the actual method of applying your lips, tongue and mouth on the harmonica. Many beginners may have playing difficulties which can be attributed to incorrect embouchure.