How to Play the Blues Harp

Embouchure (Arm-Boo-Shoe-er)

Embouchure is the way you form your mouth and tongue to play the harp.

If I tell you that the main types of embouchure are puckering and tongue blocking, you could be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about the art of kissing. (But then it is a well known fact that harp players are exceptionally gifted in this area as well so the similarity is quite justified.)

Pucker Embouchure

This is probably the most instinctive way of playing single notes but there are strong reasons why many teachers will point you away from it.

That said, Sonny Terry was a puckerer and so is Tom Ball.

Click HERE to hear an

Tongue Blocking Embouchure

This is the most favoured embouchure since it allows you to play octaves and tongue slaps to produce additional rhythmic effects.

Bending notes requires a modification of the bending technique on draw notes - to bend a tongue-blocked note, you need to keep your tongue in place on the blocked holes and pucker your lips slightly to produce the bend.

Click HERE to hear a tongue-blocked bend and an example of tongue slapping.

Embouchure for playing octaves

If you look at the layout of the notes on your harp, you will see that notes are repeated an octave apart on the instrument.

By blocking off the notes in between the 2 notes, you can produce the equivalent of the guitarist's power chord. This is a very important benefit to be gained from using tongue blocking - particularly if you want to play Chicage blues.

Click HERE to hear the power that can be added to your playing by playing octaves (The fourth note is an octave - played on an A harp)

The ending was mainly produced by puckering (except the last note) so learning to mix and match is always worthwhile

TIP: Use a piece of insulating tape to seal off the holes that your tongue should block (as well as those that would be blocked by your lips.

Blowing and drawing on a harp doctored like this will help you to recognise the correct sound when you produce it.

Note that draw octaves require you to block off 3 holes while blow octaves only require 2 holes to be blocked so you will need to learn to narrow and widen your embouchure accordingly.

The best way of doing this is to practice playing a scale in octaves.


How to Play the Blues Harp

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