Hello! In today's harmonica lesson I'll give you seven tips to help you get better bends. This lesson is for you if you're trying to bend or you're struggling to make it work. (If you're completely new to bending, check out Bending for Beginners first.)
Bending helps you to change the pitch of a note. Different holes will allow us to vary the bend to different depths. We'll be using a 4 draw today, which will move a half step/semitone. (Want to know more about which holes will bend, and how bending is possible? Check out this post.)
TIP #1: Tilt the harmonica
This isn't a long term solution but does help a lot of people to get their first bend. It works because when we play a bend we are getting both the draw and blow reed to vibrate at the same time. The proper way to do this is by humping the tongue to change the angle of the airflow. This can be difficult, but in the short term we can replicate this change by tilting the back of the harmonica upwards, so that our air will flow at a different angle. In the longterm, you'll have to learn to do this with your tongue.
TIP #2: Say 'OO'
If your mouth is too wide, you won't create the mouth cavity needed to get the bend. By concentrating on a narrow shape we can create the right space to resonate a lower note. Think of this as an 'OO' shape. Make sure not to use your vocal chords to actually make the noise 'OO' or you'll get some very strange sounds through the harp!
TIP #3: Master your clean notes
This might be obvious to you, but when investigating a student's problems with bending, I often find that they can't play good clean notes to begin with. If you're trying to bend notes when you can't play a good single note to begin with, you're trying to build a house on shaky foundations. (I have a lesson on playing single notes to get you started.)
TIP #4: Find the 'sweet spot'
As I've said in my Bending for Beginners, the three parts of a successful bend are the mouth shape, the airflow and the tongue shape. By making an 'OO' mouth shape, imaging you're slurping the air like a mikshake, and dragging your tongue back so that it curves up in the middle, you should be able to make the note move.
If this doesn't work immediately, the best thing to do is to start again, this time making the movements as slowly as possible while paying close attention to everything you hear. This is what I call finding the 'sweet spot' because if you don't go far enough you won't get a bend, but if you go too far then you won't get a bend either. There's a small middle ground where the bend will be produced, and you need to learn to locate it quickly and precisely. Which brings me on to tip 5...
TIP #5: Practise in slow motion
Although you need to bend notes quickly when using then in songs, we need to take things slowly to begin with. You'll never find the sweet spot (discussed above) unless you go as slowly as possible when practising the bend. Take it really slow and you'll be able to build up the muscle memory to recreate the bend accurately.
TIP #6: Get a better harmonica
It's certainly true that a bad workman blames his tools, but it's also true that the cheapest harps are really difficult to play. A lot of beginners struggle to bend because their instrument is simply not good enough. It's worth spending a little more to make it a lot easier to bend. I recommend learning to bend on a Hohner Special 20 harmonica. Here's an Amazon link (note: I receive a small affiliate payment if you buy via the link).
TIP #7: Be patient
My final tip is to do with the bigger picture as it can be applied to all aspects of your playing. The most patient students are the ones who become the best players. Don't be distracted by someone else who claims to have got the bends in 2 minutes. If they have, good for them! But you may take a lot longer, and there's no shame in that. We all have to make our own way and no route is better than any other.
Thanks for studying with me today. I hope you enjoyed the lesson!
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