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I Practised Bends For 30 Mins Everyday For 90 Days. Here's What Happened? (Master Bends)

As a harmonica teacher I am always saying 'practise, practise, practise' but sometimes I don't always practice what I preach.



I was feeling a little like this recently and so I set myself the challenge of practising bends for 30 minutes everyday for 90 days. Bending is challenging for beginners and experienced players alike. If you're stuggling with bending here is my free lesson: 3 easy steps to bending notes on harmonica.


Back to my challenge: in the video below I show you what happened and what I learnt (and tell you whether or not it was worth having such a rigid practice regime). I've also put my learning into a 5 step plan so you can master bending!




5 step plan to master bends


STEP 1 - Find Your Centre


Before we even talk about technique, the first step is to centre yourself.


This isn’t new fangled spiritual fluff! I actually found over the course of my 90 day challenge that my bending improved massively when I had a proper practice space and a focused, relaxed mind. 


How do you 'find your centre'? You will need to find a quiet room, calm your breathing, and focus on your mouth, lips and throat. In other words: you need to make sure you are relaxed, focused and fully present.


You genuinely can’t bend notes unless you can make micro-adjustments inside your mouth so you will need to be aware of what you’re doing in order to make this technique work.


Let's now look at the technique:


STEP 2 - Get Mouthy


What struck me repeatedly over my 90 day challenge practice period is that to get great bends, your mouth, tongue and airflow need to work together to make a note move.


We’ll start with the mouth. Play a 4 draw note, preferably on a C harmonica. Try gradually shifting your mouth from an 'AH' to an 'OO' as you continue to play the 4 draw note.


You're listening out for the note moving DOWN in pitch. If the note stays the same, don’t worry. Stop, slow down the movement and try to pay close attention to what you're doing. Going through this process slowly will ironically make it happen much quicker. Step 3 will add an extra layer of technique to help the note to move.


STEP 3 - Drink Your Milkshake


The next thing to consider is air pressure. Imagine you're slurping a milkshake with a straw. Don't PULL the air, but increase the pressure. It's more about adding a little bit of tension than using brute force. During my 90 day practice regime I found that I needed just a little extra pressure but not too much that I would be pressurising the reeds.


Again, listen out for the note getting lower. Try to focus intensely on what you’re doing. Your ears are your most useful tool as a musician so learn to make use of them at all times. If the note still isn’t moving, that’s OK. Step 4 will help.


STEP 4 - Slip of the Tongue


Perhaps the most important mechanism of bending is using your tongue. You need to create a tongue shape which allows the air to flow at the right angle and create a cavity to allow the note to be produced at a lower pitch - that’s the bend. 


Your aim is to create a hump like the one on a camel’s back. Try gently and slowly dragging the tongue back along the base of your mouth from the tip to bring up the middle and rear of the tongue. Make sure you’re doing this slowly because there is a sweet spot here - if you don’t go far enough, it won’t work, but if you drag the tongue back too far you won’t get the bend either.


As before, listen intensely for the note getting lower. Be patient with this step - it is probably the most crucial aspect of the process and will need to be right if you’re going to bend properly.


STEP 5 - Get a Tuner


Now this might seem like a strange last step, but you won’t know if you’re bending right unless you have a reference point. This was apparent during my 90 day test - when I started using a tuner I found that my bends were further off than I assumed they were… some embarrassingly so!


To make the bend happen - and master bends - a combination of the previous steps is needed. Hopefully you’re getting bends by now, but it can take a long time for some people. Don’t worry, I believe in you and you will get there in the end.


So was it worth it?


Totally - and you can watch the video to find out why!


Want to know more about bending? Here is a link to another free harmonica lesson all about bending: 7 tips for bending on harmonica for harmonica beginners.


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