Hello, this week’s harmonica lesson is hopefully going to answer the question I hear all too often;
Why does my harmonica sound airy?
There are a number of possibilities for an airy sounding harmonica.
1) Mouth shape
The most likely cause of an airy sound is that your mouth shape or embouchure isn’t quite right. You need to make sure that the harmonica is deep enough inside of your mouth.
Make sure that you are using the wet part of your lips to seal over the harmonica. You need to go very deep and don’t let your lips be thin.
Have the harmonica slightly tilted up; your top lip will cover a lot of the top cover plate and your bottom lip will not cover very much of the bottom cover plate.
If your harmonica is tilted down you quite often get a thin sound.
If the harmonica is too far outside of your mouth, you will start hearing the airy sound you are trying to avoid.
So, to recap you want a harmonica tilted up and deep inside your mouth.
If you are having difficulty getting this mouth shape try playing a 123 draw chord and use your lips to push the harmonica out until you hear a single note. As soon as you hear a clean note, stop pushing. If you push too far it will start sounding thin again.
2) Too much air
Another reason for an airy sound is trying to push too much air through. I find this is particularly common with low-key harmonicas. If you try to push too much air through a hole, it will force your mouth to open too wide.
So, you need to dial back how forcefully you are playing. Make sure you are focusing the air on one hole and not using more than you need.
3) Leaky harmonica
If you have checked your mouth shape and are certain that you are not using too much air, then we can have a look at the harmonica. You might have a leaky harmonica!
We call harmonicas leaky when they are not particularly airtight and are difficult to play because of it. This means that in each reed chamber there are gaps which are letting some of the air escape rather than going through the reed.
There are two reasons for a harmonica to be leaky. Firstly, you don’t have a very airtight comb. This is very common with unfinished wooden combs which are prone to swelling and then shrinking when they dry out. Or, the gaps between the reed and reedplate are too wide.
You can fix the comb issue by flat sanding and sealing it. You can use beeswax to seal it or food safe varnish. Alternatively, you can get replacement combs which are very airtight.
I wouldn’t recommend mucking around with your reeds until you are quite confident. But, when you are ready you can try closing the gap by gently pushing the reed down. Only do this in small increments and keep testing. It is easy to go too far!
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If you would like to take your harmonica playing to the next level, you should check out my online harmonica School at www.tomlinharmonicaschool.com/