Learn How to Play the Harmonica

By JP Allen

Written by JP Allen on . Posted in Blog: Harmonica Articles, Featured, Harmonica Lessons

Fun Techniques for Learning to Play the Harmonica!

So you want to learn how to play the harmonica? On this page I reveal the number one, easiest secret I know for learning how to play the harmonica with a rich bluesy tone and solid rhythm by getting your mouth position right!

Learn the DEEP RELAXED MOUTH POSITION

Can you bend and make the harmonica sing with rich and soulful sounds or do your notes sometimes sound airy and squeaky? I’m asking because far too many intermediate level players get stuck with bad habits and find themselves frustrated, unable to play songs accurately, and discouraged when attempting to bend.

If you’ve been having a hard time learning to play harmonica, it’s likely you have not been using the Deep Relaxed Embouchure as seen in Figure 1 below.

Mouth Position for Playing Harmonica
Figure 1: DO THIS Figure 2: DON’T DO THIS

Unlike many harmonica teachers, I highly advise against tight puckering or tongue-blocking in the beginning or you will have a much harder time learning to bend. (BTW…bending is that crying, wailing, soul-melting sound that has made the harmonica famous.)

The truth is that tight puckering of the lips will get you off to a fast start but is ultimately a dead-end street. (I’m emphasizing this because I know you can succeed with the harmonica if you develop good habits right from the beginning.) click here to see a free video that teaches the Deep Relaxed Embouchure, or follow the steps below.

Step 1. Hold the harmonica in your right hand so the numbers are facing up (the lowest sounding note should be on your left). This is not the advanced hand technique but this will make it easier for now…first things first.

Step 2. Position the harmonica deep in your mouth. Relax and moisten your lips.

Step 3. Rotate the harmonica so that the back-side of the harmonica goes up towards the ceiling. The angling of the harmonica down into your lower lip is critical (see Figure 1 above).

Step 4. Use a mirror to check that your upper lip is deep over the harmonica as demonstrated in this picture…

Step 4: Use a Mirror Step 5: Unfold Your Lower Lip

Step 5 (Most important). Unfold your lower lip. Notice in the photograph how the lower lip is unfolded so that the harmonica is making contact with the inner surface of the lower lip. Compare step 4 and 5’s photographs and notice how shallow the lower lip is on the cover plate of the harmonica.

Step 6. Use your fingers to pull down the lower lip to make sure that the harmonica is contacting the tender inner surface of your lower lip.

Step 7. Look in a mirror to confirm

  • 1. The upper lip is deep on the harmonica.
  • 2. The lower lip is shallow on the harmonica.
  • 3. The harmonica is contacting the inner surface of your lower lip.
  • 4. The harmonica is angled down into the lower lip.

Congratulations! If you only learn this one thing today, you’ve made this visit worth your while and created the foundations for learning the harmonica the right way!

JP Allen

JP Allen believes that anyone can learn to play harmonica. Are you a beginner or intermediate who is looking for an especially easy approach to getting good fast? Do you think it would be fun to play blues or some of your favorite songs with minimal practice? Then CLICK HERE for JP's Beginners Harmonica Lessons, the world’s only 100% play-along harmonica video lessons.

Comments (46)

  • Thomas

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    Hi JP Allen,
    I’ve been practicing this mouth position for 3 weeks and I can’t get the hang of it.
    It seems like the lips are blocking half of the hole I was to blow into which makes blowing and drawing difficult, and that rich sound just disappears. What adjustments am I supposed to do?

    THANKS!

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Thomas! I need to take a bit of a guess here because without seeing your technique it’s tricky. My guess is that you need to bring the corners of your lips closer together. This will serve the purpose of isolating the single note without covering so much it that “the sound disappears” (because you are covering half the hole.

      What you can do is try taking your fingers and gently pinching the lower lip closer together. This will give you the feeling of bringing the corners of your lips closer together. Once you get the feeling naturally you will remove your fingers. Let me know if that helps.

      For more help on this go to:
      http://www.harmonica.com/single-notes-harmonica-4947.html

      jp

      Reply

    • Thomas

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      Dear JP Allen,

      I REALLY want to play the harmonica & I keep watching your videos & I still don’t know how to play it right. What can I do to play it right so I can play it for my friends?

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        I would highly recommend giving my Happy Harpin’ lessons a try when your ready. http://www.harmonica.com/lessons I don’t usually suggest this to people right off the bat, but sounds like you are ready and have the passion to learn. jp

        Reply

  • Adasia

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    Hi I always wanted to play the harmonica and I have watched your videos but I can’t get the hang of it

    Reply

  • Carolyn

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    What harmonica do you recommend for a beginner that has no music background at all?

    Reply

  • Bruce Begley

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    Eagerly waiting for first lesson!

    Reply

  • Abhinav C

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    Hey, I am buying a harmonica tomorrow, i am really interested in learning! What kind should i get, considering i am a beginner but one that i could use for a long time too, u know. Thanks!

    Reply

  • Mike B.

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    Thank you for helping me get things started. Your techniques have been the help I needed. I am able to play single notes & get to where I can play songs. I am able to learn enough songs now that I am able to enjoy playing. I have chosen a different route with my playing though, I am learning to play a 12 hole Marine band, but when things don’t sound right I will pull out the bluesband until things sound right then return to the 12 hole for the lower tones. Love the lower octaves the 12 hole give me, keeps me playing & practicing. Thanks again for all the free advice, will be buying your CD’s when funds are available for this hobby…

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Right on Mike! Have fun with it. jp

      Reply

  • hemant

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    i have got a 24 hole tremolo but dont know haw to play.can u please help me with it

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      I don’t teach Chromatic, diatonic is my specialty. If you live near Kent Ohio, Hal Walker would be the man to contact. jp

      Reply

  • SAMY

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    Hi thank you jp again for you lessons .
    you recommend to pinch the lips here but in your youtub video you don’t do it so can you tell me why please ?(sorry for my bad english

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Pinching as opposed to puckering is something you can do to emphasize the deep relaxed mouth position and encourage your lips to cover the holes. jp

      Reply

  • Sadie Winkler

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    Hi i really want to learn how to play the harmonica. so if you have more of these let me know thanks.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Make sure to subscribe to my emails, and when your ready Happy Harpin’ will take you there. jp

      Reply

  • Gary

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    I have been playing for 2 weeks, and doing pretty good. It has helped that I have been able to play with someone on playing the piano with me. The way that you have shown the mouth position on the harmonica has given the most improvement I have seen, and it was an instant improvement. Thank you JP.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      That’s great news! Keep up the good work Gary! jp

      Reply

  • savion

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    hey jp i need your help on learning how to play the harmonica and i have watched your happy harping video and it helped a little how do i learn more i want to be able to play the blues for my grandad on his birthday
    he loves the blues can you help me

    Reply

  • Ric Potvin

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    Hey JP.
    I hold my harp in my right hand and not my left like I see in all the vids. It just feels better in my right hand. Is this odd or are there players that hold their harmonicas this way.
    thanks,
    Ric.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Holding the harp in your right hand like you’re doing is actually the “correct” position, although it’s all personal preference in the end. jp

      Reply

  • miles fidler

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    What is the best harmonica for me to get to learn on. I am 87 and have always wanted to learn to play the harmonica. Thanks. Miles

    Reply

    • admin

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      Hi Miles, you are never to old to learn to play harmonica! I always recommend the Hohner Bluesband. One is included with my lesson package here if you are interested: http://www.harmonica.com/lessons

      Reply

  • Rayesh pai

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    Hey jp..
    I got a harmonica, i got it as a gift.
    Name: hero harmonica, shanghai, china..is it good???else if i want to buy a new one which one would u suggest?

    Reply

  • Jon

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    I’m 48 yrs old and been learning some songs on YouTube I just recently
    Purchased your lessons and love your technique
    I’m glad I bought them, I practice all the time my wife and kids
    Trying not to upset the family, I’m hoping I can be the player you are, I just love the harmonica, can’t wait to play some Muddy Waters and others
    Thanks JP

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Jon, I’m really happy to hear you’re enjoying the lessons. keep it up! jp

      Reply

  • cris

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    hey jp i just watch ur free video lesson in the website. i bought one already(c/g) im a beginner.plz advise me if i need to buy another harmonica to start.

    Reply

  • vale fernandez

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    Please help me I have harmonica and it is a 24 holed harmonica and i dont get how to play it.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      I teach 10 hole diatonic harmonica. I’d be happy to teach you that Vale. jp

      Reply

  • Caitlin

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    Hi I see lots of men play but not girls why?
    I have a 16 hole harmonica is it good and how do I use it

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Boy I wish I knew Caitlin. I teach 10-hole diatonic. jp

      Reply

  • shivam s bhandari

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    hi ! jp i am an asthmatic patient but always wanted to learn harmonica. sometimes i feel daisy after playing it for long should i continue?

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Shivam, dizziness is a natural sensation for any beginner. Take it slow, but I encourage you to continue. Harmonica is great for any breathing disorder. jp

      Reply

  • AJ

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    Hi JP, Thanks a lot for all your lessons. I have recently started learning harmonica and I bought myself a Hohner 10 Holes Diatonic harmonica. I went through many lessons on You Tube. Most of them are very descriptive and very nice, and many of them are by known harp players as well. However, in your website you are emphasizing on a different technique of playing harp ( shallow lower lip and deep upper lip) vs the in-famous Puckering technique.

    The videos I watched till now shows puckering as the best technique, and I too feel it very comfortable. Is there any disadvantage using puckering in long run, like while playing bends and all ? Just curious to know why u r endorsing this new technique over Puckering, any ” Harp Science” logic ?

    And, I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with people like me. I appreciate all your efforts. Good Luck !! Thank You!!

    Reply

  • Arafaat Qureshi

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    i can’t play the songs tunes

    Reply

  • Alan mathew

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    hii allen… i got a 10C harmonica.. but i dont know how to play this.. help me allen plese…

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Try my free lessons on my website Alan…www.harmonica.com.
      jp

      Reply

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