What to do when a note won’t play: from easiest to hardest.

We’ve all been there, sadly sometimes during a performance! We try to play a note and NO SOUND comes out!

Through trial and error, I have developed a bunch of methods to fix the situation. I will lay them out from easiest to hardest.

1. Turn It Around

I mean turn your harmonica right side up!

Every hole on every harmonica requires a slightly different embouchure (how you hold your mouth) to sound nice. There is perhaps no greater difference than low notes and high notes. Play a G harp, the lowest standard harp, and then play an F# harp, the highest. They require such different approaches.

If you are trying to play hole 2 draw but have your harp upside down you will actually be playing hole 9 draw BUT with the embouchure required on hole 2 draw. The chances are high that zero sound will be produced.

Look at your harp. Is it right side up? If not, turn it!

Well, that was easy.

2. Hyperventilate

Open your mouth wide so that your lips have a width of three holes. Place the problem hole in the center. For example, if you are having trouble with hole 4, open your mouth to play holes 3, 4 and 5.

No matter if your problem note is a blow or draw note, draw and blow repeatedly as fast as you can.
This operates under the likely problem that there is something restricting the reed from vibrating and the reed is stuck. This could be a piece of fuzz, paper, a hair, etc.

If your violent blowing and drawing pops the reed free, you have another easy method of fixing the harp!

3. Get Wet

Go to a sink. Turn on the cold water. Turn your harp so that the holes are facing upwards. Zip the harp through the water. This should be a fast motion.

What makes this a little tougher is that it will not fix the problem right away and it will likely cause temporarily MORE problems. Suddenly, MANY water-logged holes will not play.

Hit the harp on your hands or thighs on both sides of the comb. Play the harp until, one by one, all the holes return, hopefully including the original troublemaker.

4. Release the Restriction

Get two eyeglass screwdrivers, a flathead for if the problem reed is a blow or draw reed and a Phillips head ONLY if it is a blow reed.

Take off the cover plates. The blow reeds are on the top of the comb and are within the reed plate. The draw reeds are on the bottom of the comb and are outside of the reed plate.

If the problem is with a draw reed, this SHOULD be super easy! Look at the problem reed. Hopefully, see the piece of fuzz restricting the reed. Pull away the fuzz. The reed should play again.

If it is a blow reed and you can see the fuzz, keep the reed plate on the comb and push the reed inside with the flathead screwdriver. Blow onto the problem reed, hopefully freeing the fuzz.

If you cannot see the fuzz or it does not blow off, you need to use the Phillips head screwdriver to take the blow reed plate off of the comb. Watch what you are doing closely, perhaps taking pictures so you can return it to its proper place.

Turn the reed plate over and look at the problem reed. If you CAN see the fuzz, pull it away.

As you can see, it is getting tougher.

5. Plink Away

If you do not see anything restricting the reed, you should next try plinking the reed.

If your problem reed is a draw reed, you can keep the reed plate on the comb. If it is a blow reed, take the blow reed plate off the comb.

Place your fingernail under the tip of the reed and pull up on the reed until your fingernail is pulled out of the reed.

Listen to the reed. Did it make a musical plinking note? If yes, you have solved the problem. If no, I recommend plinking up to 40 times before giving up.

6. Frankenstein It

Go to your harmonica graveyard in the closet. Find your old broken harp of the same model and key.

If your problem reed is a blow reed, play all the blow reeds on your old harp. If a draw reed, play all the draw reeds.

Are all the reeds playing well on your old harp? Take the bad reed plate off your current harp and the good reed plate off your old harp. Place the good old plate on your current harp.

Good as new!

7. Wrench It

Take the reed plate off of the comb. Place the plate up to a light. On a good reed, three sides of the reed should be surrounded by light. If only two sides of your bad reed are surrounded by light, your reed is not properly centered.

Get a reed wrench from a harmonica mechanic’s tool kit and place it around the square surrounding the rivet attaching the reed to the reed plate.

Twist in the opposite direction in an effort to center the reed.

You must twist GENTLY. My joke is that you THINK it to the right.

8. Replace It

Richard Sleigh has created a reed replacement tool and instructional videos. Go to hotrodharmonicas.com to find out about it.

I hope you are enjoying these blogs as much as I am.
Michael Rubin


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