Lungs slowly get fuller on laughing clown

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    G HanemaG Hanema

    Hi all,

    Mitch, kudos on your lessons and site. I started out with the free YouTube videos, and was happy to find a subscription on your website. Thank you for your work!

    In doing the laughing clown exercise, I draw more air than I blow. If I blow harder, I increase the volume. If I draw softer, I hardly get the notes. And so my lungs slowly get fuller till I need to exhale.
    Is this a technique thing, or is this just the way it is?

    Mitch GraingerMitch Grainger

    Hi G!

    Thanks for the kudos and the question too!

    It’s natural to have more air coming in to your lungs than leaving when first starting to play, as this is the way the brain has always thought of breathing. We think to breath in, not out!

    What needs to happen when starting on the harmonica is to increase what we call ‘breath control’.

    This is really achieved in 2 ways; 1. by simply playing more harmonica, 🙂 and 2. by focusing in a little on your diaphragm muscle, trying to keep it firm when playing many notes (in and out). Your diaphragm is the same muscle you use to hold your breath… Try holding your breath for a second and focusing in on your abdomen area, to feel the muscle in action.

    When you get more in touch with that muscle you can better start to control how much breath passes through the harmonica, and control the volume too and eventually you won’t even be thinking about it when you play.

    Try that when playing the train and laughing clown and then let us know how you’re going in a week or two?

    Cheers and welcome to the site!

    G HanemaG Hanema

    Hi Mitch,

    Thanks for a quick and extensive response. A small question to clarify further: do you mean that as I gain better control of my diaphragm, I will be able to exhale more but without a louder volume as is now the case?



    One thing I do when I need to get rid of air is to loosen my lips and let some air run around the harp as I blow out. It changes the tone but it sounds kinda cool so it’s all good.

    G HanemaG Hanema

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for the tip.
    Sounds like a bit of a bad habit that one would have to unlearn later, would you say so too?
    Similarly I sometimes partially exhale through my nose, but I did see in a video that you should avoid that too.
    I guess it’s practice like Mitch said for me, and try to avoid cutting corners.


    I wouldn’t say it’s a bad habit, Adam Gussow teaches it as a matter of course so it’s definitely not a bad thing and like I said you can actually use it to create a different tone, it creates a slight percussive effect.
    The key is I think to do what Mitch said primarily, to learn good breath control.
    Most 2nd position 12 bars will be focused on inhales so you have to have a few tricks to get rid of more air when you get the chance, else you will pop!

    Mitch GraingerMitch Grainger

    Hi Guys!

    Gerard; To answer your clarification question. When you gain more control over your diaphragm, you’ll be able to sound the notes while drawing in less air, or vice-versa as the situation demands and thus balance the breath and keep playing. If there is currently a large difference in volume between the blow and draw, you may be playing to loud… if so, try playing a little quieter and as you gain more breath control things should really start to sound nice.

    Re: The bad habit question… here your both right 🙂 Breathing out over the harp is a cool technique to expel excess air when playing in general, especially with chords and in between phrases, so the concept it self is not a bad habit, however using this idea with the laughing clown would not be a good idea, and would indeed develop a bad habit. You want any single note playing to be clean, especially when starting out.

    In general I’d say to keep your single notes clear, try feeling your diaphragm as you play and only play the exercise for as long as is comfortable, even 20 seconds at a time is great.

    I hope that clears thing up a little!

    G HanemaG Hanema

    Got it – thanks!

    (Just a thought I had as a result of the above – maybe it will be useful if there is a way for newbies – like me – to identify all posts with useful info for people just starting out. One way might be a separate newbie section. Another might be to somehow label all posts relating to beginner-type questions, eg. with Tags. Just my 2 cents …)


    Yeah…. What Mitch said.

    Keep on harpin!

    G HanemaG Hanema

    Here is for the benefit of others with the same issue:
    I kept at it, as Mitch and Ian said, and their advice certainly helped. But I also noticed after a while that, without knowing it initially, I am/was drawing harder than I was blowing. So if you also slowly fill up with air, maybe you are doing the same.
    I notice that when I pay close attention, I can blow more air without really increasing the volume. And that helps balance my intake and output.

    Happy playing!

    Mitch GraingerMitch Grainger

    Good to hear you found the solution Gerard! The good news is; doing as you describe is great for your lungs and breath control in general too! Thanks for letting us know! 🙂

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