Reply To: Hello from eEl Cajon,CA

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Hank HamiltonHank Hamilton


It can take a long time for some of us to be able to bend notes. Stick with it, you will get it. One thing you should do is to try out your bends on each hole 1-6. Don’t stick to just one or two holes.

Here are some notes on bending I made in the forum, I include them here, with some editing, so you can look at them all together:

Bending Notes

August 6, 2018

Most people experience troubles with learning to bend notes in the beginning. Just knowing this can be a big help to you. Keep at it and you will get it, guaranteed.

One suggestion is to try to bend each of the draw notes from holes 1-6 (hole 5 only bends slightly). Some holes are easier to bend than others, but this is different for each person. The 1 and 4 holes were easier for me, I still have trouble with the 3 hole bends; mainly with playing them in-tune. Hole 2 was troublesome at first but is fairly easy now.

August 9, 2018
I learned a couple of things early on about the bending process. A friend who played suggested that I whistle a high pitched note and then to slowly lower the pitch of the note to as low a note as I could, all the while paying attention to what the tongue was doing, and more importantly what the tip of the tongue was doing. You will notice that the tip of the tongue is initially, (when on the high note), up close behind the lower teeth. As you lower the pitch of the whistled note, it, the tip of the tongue, slowly moves away from the teeth, downwards and back towards the base of the tongue. Do this a few times all the while noticing what the tip of the tongue is doing.

When you bend a note on the harp, the tip of the tongue goes through the same motion and somewhere in that motion the tongue is in the right spot to produce a bent note. Now the problem is that the position of the tongue is critical, it must be in just the right spot to produce the bent note; and that position is different for each hole. What this means is that if your tongue is too far back or too far forward in the mouth to begin with, you will never get the reed to bend. Or if you move the tongue backwards too quickly, you might move it right past the spot where the bend can occur. This is especially critical on the 6 draw bend where the movement of the tongue is so small.

For those who can already bend notes, you can test this out very easily on a hole where you know how to produce the bent note. Start out with the tip of the tongue up close behind the lower teeth. Start to draw in and very slowly move the tongue down and back. Do not stop when the bent note has been produced, but continue to draw in air as before and continue moving the tongue backwards. The bent note will be lost and the pitch will rise back to its normal pitch.

So just be very conscious of where the tip of the tongue is and move very slowly. I hope this helps you out as it did me. Hank Hamilton

More on bending:

Bending notes depends very much on the shape of the mouth cavity and the shape the tongue makes.
There are couple of sounds you can articulate that may bring about the beginnings of the bent note.

Do these without and with the harmonica in your mouth:

As you draw in, as you inhale,
Say, articulate: eee – yew (yew as in you)
Say, articulate: eee – ew (ew as in the sound of do, i.e do this, do that).
Notice what the tongue and the jaw are doing as you make these sounds.
Try it first without the harmonica, then with it.

Be alert for any change at all in pitch or sound.
Also, be sure to try everything on each and every hole, 1-6.

Also, if you have access to harmonicas in another key, try them out:
The D harp is easier to bend notes on; not sure why but it is so.

Let me know if any of this helps. Sometimes when reading something for the 2nd or third time it becomes clearer.

Hank Hamilton