Hello! In today's harmonica lesson I'll get to the bottom of the most common harmonica problems. We'll look at what is making your harmonica sound bad and work through the easy fixes to get it working again.
The first thing to know is that - in reality - problems with a harmonica are almost always problems with the player. This is good news because it's easy to fix. Almost all of your problems can be solved with a simple change of habit. Let's look at some examples.
Note not playing properly
It's common to find that the 2 draw note doesn't play properly, but this can happen on any other hole as well. If you're getting a rough/dirty sound rather than a clean note, make sure you are putting the harp into your mouth rather than pursing your lips and reaching out towards the instrument. You'll find that you can relax and the note will sound a lot cleaner. The 2 draw note is the same note as the 3 blow so you can compare the two to make sure you're getting it right. Of course, you will still need to keep your mouth narrow enough that you don't play more than one hole at once. Check out this clean notes lesson if you want to learn more.
Bending by accident
If you are getting bending sounds when you don't want them (i.e. the note is flattening in pitch to a lower note), try to be as relaxed as possible when you're playing. Your tongue should be sitting in your mouth without any movement or tension - any additional tension will affect the tone and produce the beginnings of a bend. Also become aware of any tension in your throat or cheeks. It's like mindfulness! Remember that you are just a vessel for the breath, rather than having to actually "blow" or "suck" the air.
Squealing or no sound
It's common to get squeaky/squealing sounds or no sound at all on the high holes (and sometimes on other holes too). Don't pull harder when this happens, even though it's tempting! The harp is actually telling you that you are forcing it too much. Relax and imagine the air flowing gently in and out. By getting rid of tension, the note will play much easier.
Too much moisture
Excess moisture can block reeds from vibrating so you won't get a proper sound. If this is happening, you can usually solve it by simply tapping the harmonica on to your hand to release any moisture. Make sure to avoid any fizzy drinks when playing (personally I avoid anything but water) as they are harder to get off and can lead to blockages.
If a reed is blocked (either by food or sugary liquid) you can use a toothpick to gently remove any unwanted particle from the offending reed. This can sometimes be done without taking the harmonica apart, but sometimes this may be required. Also make sure to brush your teeth before playing and avoid eating or drinking anything but water then playing.
NOTE: Only take your harmonica apart if you know how to. Small parts can be lost easily and you can damage your harp if you are not careful.
Gaps too big
If the reed won't play or requires an extremely gentle breath, the gap between the reed and the reedplate may be too small. It's a simple fix to open up the gap. Gently force the reed away from the reed slot so that there is more space between the reed and the reedplate. Again, be careful as there are small parts involved.
Out of tune reeds
If you're playing the reed properly, and you've tried every fix, and the harp is still out of tune, then the reed has been damaged. This happens naturally over time - sadly most reeds go flat in the end, especially if you're bending notes. It is possible to re-tune the reed, replace the individual reed, or replace the whole reedplate, but you need to seek advice to make sure you do it properly. Of course, you could just buy a new harmonica!
New harmonica already broken?
As you have seen above, almost all harmonica problems are down to the player, but on the rare occasion when you receive a new harmonica and you are certain it is faulty, most companies will swap it for a new one. Just be sure to check your technique first.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson. Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments!
Join my harmonica school today!
If you are keen to improve your playing, start your free trial of my harp school today...