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Why won't my harmonica play properly?

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Hello! In today's harmonica lesson I'll be troubleshooting a common problem for beginner harmonica players: harp notes not playing properly. Almost all of us have this problem at some point, and I'm going to walk you through the best solutions.


Here is my recommended 4 step plan when dealing with a harmonica note that won't play:


STEP 1: Do you have the same problem with all your harmonicas?


YES: It's almost certainly a problem with your technique. You likely have too much tension in your lips and tongue and you might also be forcing the air too much. The harmonica is a very sensitive instrument and needs to be treated delicately. Check out my free harmonica lesson on playing single notes for more info.


NO: If only one of your harmonicas has a problem, it could still be technique if you're not used to playing a low/high harp, but it's more likely to be a problem with an individual reed. A bit of light cleaning will usually dislodge anything which is stopping the reed from playing. Check out my free video on cleaning a harmonica for more info. (NOTE: if it's the 2 draw that's the problem, read the next step.)


STEP 2: Is your 2 draw the problem?


YES: The 2 draw is an especially tricky note because it's even more sensitive than the other holes. Everyone finds it difficult at first. Check out my free harmonica lesson on playing a great 2 draw for more info.


NO: It's almost certainly because you're forcing the air too much. It's counterintuitive but you don't really need to "blow" or "suck" the air. I use the matra "breathe, don't heave" with my students. Check out my free harmonica lesson on playing single notes for more info.


STEP 3: Is the problem with the high holes?


YES: Like the 2 draw, the higher notes are especially sensitive. It's very easy to pull too hard on the draws, and blow too hard on the blow notes, and this can mean you get a horrible squealing sound or even no sound at all! Check out my free harmonica lesson on playing the high notes for more info.


NO: It's almost certainly because you're forcing the air too much. It's counterintuitive but you don't really need to "blow" or "suck" the air. I use the matra "breathe, don't heave" with my students. Check out my free harmonica lesson on playing single notes for more info.


STEP 4: Has cleaning/changing your technique solved the problem?


YES: Great!


NO: Bear in mind that it can take quite a long time to perfect your single notes technique. But if you're certain that it's a problem with the harmonica, as a last resort you should speak to the store or distributor you bought it from. I'm sure they will be happy to replace the faulty harmonica.


I hope this has helped identify and solve your problem with notes not playing properly on the harmonica. Thanks for watching!


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