Q: How do I bend?

A: Bending is the lowering of the pitch of a reed. This can be done on all holes of a chromatic, but only on the draw reeds of holes 1-6 and the blow reeds of holes 7-10 of a diatonic (blues harp style). Bending on tremolo or octave tuned harmonicas is probably less controllable. Bending is achieved by changing the shape of your mouth cavity while playing a certain note. Your mouth should be quite relaxed. Now try to retract your tongue and to drop your lower jaw. Because the size of your mouth cavity increases, its resonant frequency decreases, and the pitch of the note will be lowered.

Some hints and keys..

1) Be sure you can get a good, clean, pure, loud, single note before anything
else. Don't even worry about bends if you can't get a consistent pure single

1a) One good approach is to use the "lip block" embouchure (how you "kiss" your harp). Tilt the harp up at the back about 30-45 degrees, open your mouth pretty wide, enough to cover 3 holes, with your upper lip about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way over the top cover. Let the harp nestle into your lower lip. What happens is that quite naturally, without really trying and without forcing it, the lower lip blocks the 2 side holes and lets the center hole sound cleanly. The open mouth helps in getting bends correctly. The harp needs to be well in your mouth... Don't be shy! You can't just touch it with puckered lips and make it work right.

2) While breathing in, make "eeeeee" and "oooooh" sounds. Notice how your draw drops, and pay attention to the feeling in your throat. The bend happens when you go from "eeeeee" to "oooooh". Try holes 2, 3, and 4 for your first bends.

3) The tongue is the key (for beginners). Start with it flat and forward in your mouth. While drawing in with the "eeeee", *slowly* pull it back, keeping the front low in the mouth, and humping it in the back. At some point the sound should begin to choke a little. That's the crucial spot. Treat it like the "friction point" on a clutch car... if you move to fast you'll stall the car--or miss the bend. At that crucial spot go from "eeee" to "ooooh". At first it may help to increase the air pressure a little. But, you *don't* have to play loud or hard to get bends. You can bend notes playing quite softly.

4) Breathe in while making a hard "K" sound. Notice where you make that sound in your throat. That's where the bend comes from.

5) Breathe from deep within your body--from your diaphram. Feel your stomach push out a little bit. This will help your resonance and make bending easier.

6) "Practice, practice, practice" %^]

I tried to figure out what the simplest thing to do to get a bend is, this is what I came up with:

1.) Using a pucker get a single pure note with a relaxed tongue, mouth and throat.

2.) Slowly move the back of the tongue back and up while lightly and evenly drawing on hole 1, 2, 3, 4 or 6. Keep the front of the tongue about half way between the bottom and top of the mouth. The tongue feels like an accordion being squeezed to the back of the throat.

(FMI: "Re: Help with bending..." 24-26 May 94 KF, WY, JE, KG, RO)
(FMI: "Bending [LONG]" 14 Sep 94 HM)
(FMI: "RE: Bending [LONG] + Blow Bending" 15 Sep 94)
(FMI: "RE: Bending" 15 Sep 94 RO)
(FMI: "Re: 3 Draw Bent Down -- Help?" 30 Jun 95 (long thread))
(FMI: "Draw Bent Down -- Help?" 30 Jun 95 WY)
(FMI: "Jazz chromatic" 20 Sep 94 WY)
(FMI: "Bending & Overblows" Sep 94 DW)
(FMI: "Bending" 28 Sep 94 WY)
(FMI: "Help with tongue block bending..." 26 May 94 WY)
(FMI: "Thanks. and tongue blocking again!" 3 May 94 S)
(FMI: "bending and tongue blocking" 24 Aug 94 WY)


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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles

Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.

Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


Harp Frequently Asked Questions