Hello, this week’s harmonica lesson is all about how to breathe properly on the harmonica.
I get a lot of requests from people to do a lesson on the subject so here we go.
Breathing is such a natural thing to do that we have very strong habits associated with it. So when we try to breathe on the harmonica there are certain problems. For example, changing airflow on harmonica, very quickly feels very alien because in another context it would be hyperventilating.
Breathing from your diaphragm
Before we look at anything else, the most important thing we need to fix is the foundation of your playing. This is trying to breathe from your diaphragm. The majority of people breathe from their chests rather than all the way down in their bellies. The problem with this is that you are limiting your lung capacity.
Breathing from the diaphragm helps you to be as relaxed as possible which leads to better tone. Furthermore, the harmonica is so small but breathing from deeper in your body gives it a bigger resonance chamber.
Learning how to diaphragm breathe
Empty your lungs while physically pulling your stomach muscles in. Once you can’t push any more air out just release your belly muscles. This will naturally pull the air down into your lungs rather the you having to actively breathe in.
Repeat this exercise a few times and then try putting a harmonica against your mouth when you are letting the air come back in. Try to be as relaxed as possible and you will get a nice long sustained note. Try this on the 2 hole draw.
Practice breathing from your diaphragm every time you pick up the harmonica. Practice this at the beginning of your practice session. You can also think about this at other times of the day. Eventually it will start creeping in to your normal breathing and, before you know it you will be breathing from your diaphragm naturally.
As soon as you put something in your mouth, there is a tendency to suck rather than breathe naturally. This is not good for harmonica playing. It leads to a pretty strained sounding note on the harmonica, especially on the 2 hole draw.
To practice breathing naturally instead of sucking, try making your embouchure and breathe in without the harmonica. If you hear the air coming through your lips, you are sucking. Try to breathe naturally by relaxing your tongue. If you get it right, you won’t hear anything and you will feel a patch of cold air at the back of your throat.
Once you are comfortable with the difference between breathing naturally and sucking. Try applying it to the harmonica.
Keep relaxed and keep the tongue loose in the base of your mouth.
Limit how many breaths you take
If you are playing multiple draw notes in a row without any blow notes, you should just use one breath to play them.
When you need to change the direction you are playing in, practice pausing the draw note and switching the direction you are breathing. This will feel different to breathing in and then breathing out.
This is also applicable when you are playing a string of blow notes in a row.
Practice this by playing the blues scale in as few breaths as possible.
This level of control of airflow will enable you to play long sustained passages. For example, the solo in Long Train Running by the Doobie Brothers.
Click here to check out my lesson on Long Train Running!
Thank you for reading this
Thanks so much for reading this lesson. I hope that it was helpful for you. A lot of these changes will take a little bit of getting used to before they become natural but if you stick at it the benefits in terms of tone, control and stamina will be massive.
Please feel free to share this lesson on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the share button is. I will be incredibly appreciative. You are awesome!
Are you not sure what to practice?
If you feel like you are jumping around loads of different ideas with any direction, why don’t you look at my online harmonica school.
I send a monthly practice guide for your specific level to help you practice the right things to progress.
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