Hello and welcome to this week’s harmonica lesson.
First of all, apologies for not putting out a lesson last week. Everything is now back to normal. Thank you for your patience.
Today’s lesson is going to point out five of the most common mistakes I see beginner harmonica players making.
1. Playing Too Hard
When we start playing harmonica, we watch videos of passionate players who look like they are strangling the instrument. However, the truth is that to get a good sound you need to play lightly.
Warning Signs Of Playing Too Hard
* Strained sounding notes
* Excess air sounds
* Running out of air
* Unable to focus your airflow on a single hole
How To Fix It?
You can fix playing too hard by breathing naturally rather than forcing air through or sucking.
Imagine that there is a baby sleeping in the room next to you; if you play too loud you will wake it up.
If you want to play really loud, use a microphone!
2. Playing With One Hand
We want to look nonchalant and cool when we play harmonica. Playing one handed makes it look like you’re a pro and know what you are doing. However, it also makes it very easy to make mistakes.
Warning Signs Of Playing With One Hand
* You have a beer in one of your hands
* You are making silly mistakes when moving between holes
* You sometimes move too far when moving between holes
How To Fix It?
* Place your right hand on the right hand side of the harmonica
3. Moving Head Not Hands
This is a very common one. If you move your head rather than your hands you often end up the harmonica at a different angle to your mouth. This means that even with a clean starting note, once you have moved up or down the harmonica you will have your mouth open across multiple holes.
A lot of people do this without even noticing…
Warning Signs Of Moving Your Head
* Nice clean notes progressively getting worse
* You end up looking over to one side
* Elbows leaning on the table in front of you while you are playing
How To Fix It?
* Watch yourself playing in the mirror and try to not move your head
* Stare at a fixed point in front of you and try not to lose sight of it while you are playing
* Don’t lean on the desk in front of you
4. Looking At The Harmonica
The harmonica is known as a ‘blind’ instrument. This means you can’t see what you are doing. However, it is very tempting to take it out of your mouth and look at what hole you are aiming for.
As you get more technically proficient you will find less and less time to look at the harmonica which means you will hit a roadblock in your improvement. This is because you won’t have learnt where the holes are by feel.
Warning Signs Of Looking At The Harmonica
* Going cross-eyed
* Long pauses between notes while you look for them
* Taking your harmonica out of your mouth
How To Fix It?
* Close your eyes
* Keep the harmonica in your mouth
* Hit the wrong hole and make adjustments
5. Rushing Ahead Before They Are Ready
The biggest and most common mistake is rushing ahead before you are ready. In the early days of your playing, harmonica will be extremely exciting and extremely overwhelming. You will come across all sorts of technical terms like overblows, vibrato, positions and whole step. This will make you feel like you need to work on everything at once. Don’t!
Work on the foundations bit by bit and don’t jump from lesson to lesson until you are ready.
Warning Signs Of Rushing Ahead
* Buying a custom harmonica after you have been playing for 2 days
* Watching 10 harmonica lesson videos back to back
* Worrying that you can’t overflow after playing for a year
How To Fix It?
* Do one thing at a time and nail it
* Take my self-assessment test and see where you are in your playing and only do lessons at that difficulty level
* Don’t worry about where you are on the path to harmonica greatness, just take small steps…
These are all very common mistakes so if you make one or a number of them, don’t worry, we all have and some of us still do! Just spend a little time trying to fix it a little at a time…
Want some more help?
If you would like a little more help with getting your foundations sorted then check out my 4 week beginner harmonica course.
Click here for more details…
Thank you by the lesson. I was really wondering why i start playing clear notes e then it gets worse.
Dave Kuehl says
I’m guilty of 4 out of 5!
Steve Root says
Oh my, I’ve been moving my head….
This was great information, many thanks!
Thank you very much for sending me your really useful lessons.
Greetings from Switzerland
Mistakes 2 and 4: hmmmm…..guilty…(sometimes)…. 🙂
I am working on it… 🙂
ian barnett says
Brilliant info,i will take heed of these 5 points.thankyou
JOHN TAYLOR says
Hi. Tomlin, I have really enjoyed your lessons and have a practice at all of them. My current ability is quite erratic I do read tabs. but I also try to
play by ear. My biggest problem is getting to bend holes 2/3 I do make a bend but on hole 3 it sounds very dead and boring,
I do have a problem with my vocal chords which prevents my throat from closing the escaping sound that finishes a word off
thus making my speech quite hoarse almost like I have the closing stages of a sore throat. I am sure that this contributes to the
rather poor sound that emerges from my harmonica. However I digress what I would like you to put together at some stage is the
backing harp being played on Carl Perkins cd ” Mr. Rock “n” Roll my favourite style of harp playing is the up tempo rhythm put out
by players like that on the cd. If you could put together some those track backings I would appreciate it, as some times I wonder if
on occasions they do use some modified tuning as I seem to struggle to find the notes
Best Wishes ———— jumpjive65jive
Hi Tomlin You have no need for apologies the lessons are free and you only missed a one day.
This is a great lesson it will help a beginner as myself .
Thanks again Bill
Rick Lee says
There was no link/description for the 4 week Beginners course you talked about at the end of the lesson (5 mistakes beginners make, which is totally where I am at). If possible please send something to us. I have already subscribed to your website. thanks, Rick
charles barker says
I liked the 5 mistake items you sent they will be helpful
for me as I am having some trouble one time I practise
it don’t sound bad the next time I sound like I just got
my first harmonica. I practise every day at lest a half
hour. I like to play bl eyes crin in the rain with Willie Nelson
and Shinia Twain which key of A seams to sound ok.
Hi. Thanks for the lesson. I just have one question. Recently I spoke with Christelle Berthon. I know you know her personally, and she said it was a bad mistake to move hands and not head. Which seems to be opposite to what you are saying in your lesson. It means that when you play you move your head and not hands. Im a bit confused. Of course there are people on youtube who say: do what feels best. And I can imagine that when someone learns to move head, it does not necessarily mean he will loose some of the notes because he may change the harp angle when moving to right or left. But what is the right technique? I learned to move hands and not head, and after she told me that it should be the other way around, I noticed I struggle a bit to make my head move 😉
How do you address that?
wilfred mcgeen says
Tomlin, this was a very good lesson!!! May i suggest this lesson be really early in your beginners lessons , because it is difficult to break a bad habit. I did not know you had to keep your head still and move your hands. I am a golfer, so keeping my head still is beat into my brain, therefor i will imagine putting when playing, hopefully this will help.The mirror really helpsThese tips would be useful at the first introduction to the harmonica. Thank you WILF
Walter Scanlon says
It’s great to hear an instructor who not only teaches how to play but also teaches how NOT to play. I find myself making all five mistakes at one time or another. So I really appreciate, Tomlin, this important lesson.
Thanks Walter, I’m glad you enjoyed the lesson!
Hi John, I’m glad you enjoy the lessons 🙂
The bending technique strengthens the more you practice it. Try bending and holding very slowly. This will build your stability and lead to better tone.
I’ll check out the tune!
Hi Rick, you will need to click the link at the bottom of the page to get more information about the 4 week course. Cheers, T
Hi Stan, you will find players who do both. It is much easier to play accurately by moving your hands so I would definitely recommend sticking to that technique 🙂