beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > New and confused but hooked on the harp.
New and confused but hooked on the harp.
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1 post
Sep 20, 2017
12:46 PM
Hello all. Shawn here. I just picked up the harmonica literally three days ago. I am a guitar player of 35 years, rock/alternative, and have just recently in the last year transitioned to full time acoustic and formed a trio.

I have loved listening to the harmonica all my life and had always been envious of such a portable and beautiful instrument. The time was never available and to honest as a younger man with cool, dark, angst to project I was afraid of what my contemporaries of the time would think.

Now however I could give a toss so here we go.

I want to explain where I am, what I have been using, and what I am trying to achieve to see if I am on the right track.

After reading reviews and posts on this site and others I purchased as my first harp a Suzuki Manji in C. This was on Sunday last. I played roughly 4-5 hours total over the first two days watching Adams videos and using lip pursing and tongue blocking trying both back and forth. This is what I found for me.

I don't like tongue blocking at all.

Hate it actually lol. For me it feels slow and clumsy. With lip pursing after a couple days I can blow all the single notes on the harp mostly clean and loud. I can slowly walk from the 1 to the 10 blowing and drawing each note even the 2. I feel like I am getting a feel for how far I have to move to skip several holes at a time. And I think I am getting a solid seal on the harp. Not great but not awful. I have only worked on single notes and melodies no bending or anything just basic clean notes. Playing a lot of Neil Young and Dylan melodies. Do I have to learn tongue blocking if I don't have interest in traditional Chicago blues?

A friend who has played for a couple years stopped by with a Hohner Crossover. WOW. I mean holy cow even. I couldn't believe how much easier it was for me to play than the Manji. Almost no breath required. Much louder and with this tone I cannot describe. Wooly maybe. As a guitar player I would say it had a little hair on it and it was glorious. At first it was a little awkward to hold it being slightly slimmer front to back but I settled in pretty quick. So off to Guitar Center to pick up a Crossover.

Same thing. Awesome out of the box. It just felt right straight away. I have been going back and forth between the Crossover and the Manji since and it hasn't changed. I just have more trouble with the Manji and have to use much more breath to get the reed going. The soft dynamics are just not there. I would chalk that up to being a rank beginner but not so with the Crossover.

I don't have a lot of interest in traditional chicago style blues. Modern blues, blues/rock, folk, country, and Irish fiddle tunes for my grandpa is what I after. Do I have to tongue block? Is it really the way to go for styles outside of old school blues?

What am I missing about the Manji. I am keeping it regardless as I plan to collect many harps but from a playability standpoint what am I doing wrong? I dont get it. I thought I could draw the 2 okay with the Manji until I tried the crossover. Does the Suzuki Promaster/Hammond play differently than the Manji? How would the Seydel 1847 classic compare to the playability of the crossover?

I may just not be a Suzuki guy just like I am not a Fender guy. I pick up anything other than a Gibson electric or Martin Acoustic and I feel like I am in the wrong house if you get my meaning.

I contacted Joe Spiers about a custom set of Crossovers and got on the waiting list. In the meantime I need to pick up a A and D harp for rehearsals and was thinking maybe a seydel 1847 and another crossover or possibly a Promaster/Hammond if I can figure them out.

Thank you in advance for any help.


Last Edited by smagee on Sep 20, 2017 1:01 PM
154 posts
Sep 21, 2017
1:58 PM
Hi welcome to newbie land.
I must say you are braver than I am ordering up a set custom harps right from the start. Hope it all works out okay.
I know you are asking about the various techniques tongue block, lip perusing..course that could get people talking for the next several years at the least.
I would say learn all of the above..
You're doing good if you're getting single notes
already. Sure tongue blocking might seem like trying to talk with your tongue sticking out or drooling all over yourself...not to worry eventually it will all come together and you'll be looking back on it wondering why it gave you a hard time in the 1st place.

You probably already know the 1st three holes will give you the chords to accompany a large variety of songs. Since you already play an instrument you are bound to have the basic concept of playing chords and being in the right chord at the right time...then you can add single notes as your ability allows...often for harmonicas a single note can represent a's a pretty common way of playing.

I don't know much about the various harps you mention as they are not the ones I use though, I think I have a Crossover somewhere...seems okay to me.
Perhaps you know the expression "The grass is always greener in the other fellow yard " or something like that.
much the same with harmonicas may hear a good player and think wow I want whatever harp that person has...but it's the musician that makes the music.
Sitting at a Baby Grand piano does not make a great player...if you catch my drift
good luck ...have fun !
6 posts
Sep 22, 2017
1:00 AM
Thank you!

I have to say that was a fairly apt description of how tongue blocking felt to me lol.

I think you are right though. I would sell myself short if I discounted tongue blocking. I want to try to learn both at the same time. Switch back and forth every other day.

Last Edited by smagee on Sep 22, 2017 1:01 AM
69 posts
Sep 22, 2017
2:08 AM
I’ve been playing now for 3 years now and I felt exactly the same as you at first.
What I found is I wanted a fuller sound from my playing and tongue blocking has really produced that.
I still lip purse 75% of the time, but tongue blocking gives me more tricks for the bag!
Regarding harmonicas. I use Hohner special 20’s and marine band deluxe. I can’t get on with others. Tried them, don’t like them. Each to their own!
Have fun!
4984 posts
Sep 22, 2017
2:38 AM
Yeah, I think it's a bit pessimistic to say you're hooked after less than 7 days, but confused is fair enough, self evident.
There is still time. I'm not kidding. Harmonica is a bad choice. Almost everyone regrets learning to play but sometimes don't realise until too late. You can play guitar. If I could play guitar no way I'd be messing with harps
156 posts
Sep 22, 2017
6:34 AM
As you can tell there can be a wide variety of answers. in forums.
I tend to look at learning a new instrument as a new language and am a believer the more you know... the more variety.
So 'don't worry be happy' and have some fun with it.
I noticed you mentioned when you were younger there was some angst about playing harmonica for you, but not now as you are older.
I'm a bit of an old duff myself... there is an old tune "Don't get Around Much Anymore "
I was thinking of changing the lyrics a bit...
"To Old to Care Much Anymore" and run the lyrics through a variety of things we really just don't give a hoot about.
That would be for humor..not for purist though more than likely...heh heh

Last Edited by Spderyak on Sep 22, 2017 6:38 AM
2214 posts
Sep 22, 2017
8:07 AM
You must tongue block to play octaves and other splits (a split is any combination of notes not adjacent to each other). There’s no way to play them without putting your tongue on the harp.

There are other techniques like slaps, pulls and tongue flutters which can be imitated by lip pursed techniques but never sound quite the same to my ears.

That being said, many very fine players are primarily lip pursers: Toots Thielemans, Stevie Wonder, Howard Levy, Carlos del Junco, Jason Ricci (although I think Jason is tongue blocking more these days).

I think you are wise to work on both from the beginning. People who start out exclusively lip pursing seem to have a lot more difficulty learning tongue blocking down the road than tongue blockers have learning to lip purse.
7 posts
Sep 22, 2017
10:58 AM
Thanks for the feedback all! Well except for the passive aggressive insult and odd proclamation.

I played the harp for 6 or 7 hours yesterday and never got bored. Only stopped because my drummer had to bail out : )

I have played the guitar since I was 7 years old. I also play bass and drums. Spent half my adult life as a full time touring musician. I love the instrument but I have been looking for a new instrument to grab ahold of me for years. Tried all kinds of stuff. Violin, sax, and piano to name a few.

As far as the custom harps go it may seem a bit crazy but it's how I am. I play custom Gibson and Martin's. Michael Swart builds my amps. I am a gear nut with near constant gear acquisition syndrome much to my wife's dismay.

I am having a much harder time getting going with the tongue blocking than the pucker but I am sticking to it. The right side of my tongue is not happy : )

I can see now that even if I decided to lip purse most of the time I definitely need tongue blocking as well. Cheers!


Last Edited by smagee on Sep 22, 2017 12:50 PM
8 posts
Sep 22, 2017
11:18 AM
I transposed the finger exercises I use to stay limber into harp tab. Sitting and running single note scales.
24 posts
Sep 22, 2017
11:54 AM
Shawn, in case you're referring to Superbee, he's not a troll. He's actually one of the most helpful people on the forum. I imagine his tongue was at least partly in cheek when the post was written.
9 posts
Sep 22, 2017
12:49 PM
Ah I see. That being the case I stand corrected. Seemed like an unnecessary cheap shot but I suppose I don't have the lay of the land so to speak.


Last Edited by smagee on Sep 22, 2017 12:51 PM
10 posts
Sep 22, 2017
2:01 PM
Since I had the free month of David Barrett's school from buying the hohner harp I went and watched his tongue blocking lessons. I had the wrong approach all together. I can't do it on all the notes yet but I see how it is done properly.

4987 posts
Sep 22, 2017
5:05 PM
Ah yeah just a little joke Shawn, sorry it came across the wrong way...just following the line of logic that anyone who takes up the harp is obviously confused. Mainly only member Martin and me are open about our regrets for getting involved in playing the harp, but I think we are only partially joking about it. It is an inherently flawed instrument which was probably intended as something of a novelty. It's debatable whether it really deserves to be called an 'instrument', but I suppose it's been taken semi-seriously for so long now that it's probably earned the title. And there are many highly skilled practitioners of course, and a thriving cottage industry in teaching and modification.
But still, sometimes I wonder what those folks could have achieved if they'd put their effort toward playing an inherently toneful instrument.
I accept the harmonica does do some things well. And of course talented people will always push the known limits. And of course there are people who are highly skilled harp players who also play other instruments at a high level.
With your background I have no doubt you'll advance quickly on the instrument as the concepts will present little challenge and you'll be able to get down with the technique and movement quickly.
Much of the instruction that exists is pitched to people who come to the harp with little or no musical background (and in fact many seem to be quite resistant to the idea and want to do it all by ear and instinct, which is fine except many don't have much of an ear at first).
Clearly you are not gonna have that problem, which is good but also may frustrate you at first when looking for appropriate instruction.
I haven't seen Levy's stuff, mainly because his style is not up my street. Barrett is great if you want solid instruction on technique but if you don't like Chicago/west coast blues, it may be hard to swallow the juice because that's pretty much every lesson on the site which uses song context. Also dave is very methodical and some claim too dry. His site works very well though and personally I like that he keeps it largely a personality free zone on the lesson material.
I really think you may be best served going straight to one on one live lessons.

Joe Filisko recently posted an article which I've pasted in below. To me this really gets to the heart of the matter with harmonica, regardless of the style of music you prefer.

I have always found the subject of “tone” fascinating and VERY hard to define. I believe that everyone could agree that having no tone is a bad thing and having big tone is a good thing. In order to get into the details of this, I have found it necessary to address the subject as “tone” AND “sound.” Here’s my take on it.
The harmonica is a very tiny instrument and it is very good at sounding tiny. Making it sound BIG is a sign of mastery, usually taking many years, and an essential ingredient in the "traditional" and Chicago Blues sound. I believe this is different from many of the modern playing styles. Having a detailed understanding of what tone exactly is, and what the various sound types are, will be very helpful to you in not only understanding the complexities of the early players and styles, but also in obtaining that sound for yourself if you desire.
TYPES OF SOUND - There are five types of sound the harmonica is capable of mechanically producing before any tonal variations are added. These are the sounds that come out of the harmonica. The last four are also the core of "Technique Tone." Some can be played simultaneously.
1. Clean Notes - One individual hole played unbent, bent, or overbent. Think of this as the smallest type of sound that the harmonica can make. No difference tones will be present.
2. Splits / Octaves - Two clean holes played simultaneously out of each side of the mouth with at least one hole blocked in between them. The most common is the Split-4 (tongue blocks out two), followed by the Split-5 (tongue blocks out three), and Split-3 (tongue blocks out one).
3. Dirty Notes & Dirty Splits - One clean hole played simultaneously with a little part of an adjacent hole, usually the higher hole. The dirty note of the split is usually the highest note. This can indeed be the result of playing sloppy, but is used by the masters with great precision. They may use a little dirt, a moderate amount of dirt, a lot of dirt or any degree in between. The magical result is the newly created third note called the "difference tone." Many of the masters can end up blurring the line between dirty notes and chords.
4. Percussive - The explosive attack resulting from using the various types of vamping / slapping on clean notes, dirty notes or splits, but not chords. This adds another layer to the resulting sound.
5. Chords & Chordal Effects - Two or more adjacent holes played simultaneously. Think of chords as having the biggest sound that the harmonica can make, especially on holes 1, 2 & 3. Chordal effects include shakes, tongue shakes and rapid vamping. I personally have found that thinking of all the chordal effects as part of the same group has many benefits even though some, such as the shakes, can be executed to sound more like clean single notes. Chords are generally NOT played tongue blocking but result after lifting the tongue away from the harmonica.
TYPES OF TONE - Tone is thought of as a warm, pleasing or BIG sound or, the amount of bass/treble in ones sound. Tone can be broken down into five different categories or types. Without incorporating the first three of these, the harp will sound like its size, . . . tiny. The best players generally use the full range of tonal variations. “Technique” tone is included here because in my experience, a player using all the “Types of Sound” will generally end up automatically with a bassier tone and a bigger sound.
1. Technique Tone - The powerful result of skillfully using all the 5 TYPES OF SOUND.
2. Head Tone - The resonance created in your head and neck (mouth cavity and vocal tract) 3. Hand Tone - The resonance created by your hands and the tightness of their formed "cup”
4. Harp Tone - The sound fingerprint of the actual harmonica
5. Equipment Tone - The sound fingerprint of the equipment and gear
11 posts
Sep 22, 2017
9:16 PM
SuperBee I understand. I apologize for jumping to conclusions. I am very Irish its what we do.

I think I understand a little where you are coming from. I have a dear friend who is an absolutely phenomenal banjo player and makes his living as such. But he has pretty much hated the instrument for years.

I go into a different gear with study and practice. Things like learning 80 songs you have never heard before in three weeks to fill in for someone on tour and the like force you to develop a system. Mine is full go or nothing I suppose. Drives my wife crazy.

That is a very cool breakdown. It's almost like building an organic signal chain. I actually do enjoy listening to traditional blues from time to time but my heart just would never be in performing it and I feel like that sells the audience short a bit. I did that touring with a country artist for a while. It was a wonderful experience but I never felt it if you know what I mean.

I can't let myself look at is as black and white as I have been. I need to be able to perform both techniques if I want to be well rounded. I can see that now.

I am going to contact Winslow Yerxa and see if he is accepting students as he is here in the bay area. Cheers!

266 posts
Sep 23, 2017
11:32 AM
To answer part of your earlier question, the Hammond/Promaster feels different than the Manji. I have both and prefer the Hammond. I've got a Manji with Promaster covers and a Blue Moon comb and I like that. Seems more airtight ( which may be why your Crossover plays with less breath force). A friend loves his 1847s (I think they're Silvers). I like my Session Steel in F but that has a different cover shape than you've been using, which may or may not influence your decision. I've got a couple Hohner Sp20 with h combs from Blue Moon that I love as well as a couple of Suzuki Harpmasters, again with Bue Moon combs. If you're looking for something good OOTB (out of the box) until your custom crossovers come in, I'd look at a Suzuki Harpmaster, Olive or Hammond. Sp20s are good but there has been some concern expressed on the main forum recently about the quality OOTB.
Have fun in your quest and enjoy the process.
12 posts
Sep 23, 2017
5:02 PM
I sat in with some buddies at their rehearsal last night to mess around with melodies. They have been covering a Gin Blossoms song called Follow You Down that has a harp intro. I had all the single notes strong and clear but for the life of me couldnt bend a note. I had watched some lessons already but it wasn't clicking.

Then I found a three part video series on YouTube Jason Ricci did in 2007. And it blew my mind.

I had no idea holes 1-6 only bent on the draw and 7-10 on the blow. I also had no idea that each hole bent a different degree anywhere from under a half step to a step and a half.

I have watched a bunch og videos explaining the physical act of bending. Moving your tongue a little forward and up toward your soft pallet, then drawing it back and down. Like siphoning gas with a hose or something. Couldn't do it. Ricci says go oh ah oh ah. And there it was. On the draw anyway.

Went back inside got on the mic and it was glorious. It's a long blow six followed by the draw six bend to start. Felt it in my nuggets. I love this thing.

Oh and that was with the Crossover. Got home and tried it with the Manji. I can do it but not well. The Manji feels really tight and a bit muted and dark after a long stretch on the Crossover. I think I dig a bright harp.

4996 posts
Sep 23, 2017
5:50 PM
Getting the hang of the bends is an ongoing challenge. I was speaking with Ronnie Shellist a couple weeks ago and he mentioned how he still works on it everyday. Dave Barrett says the same. And it's different on every key, every model, to an extent every harp. So it's vital to have control of the process so you can adapt as needed.
Regarding the harps themselves, the bend is created by the interaction of the reeds. Sorry, not totally true, the first part of the bend comes from the primary reed but as you go deeper the other reed gets more involved. So the physical factors of the way the reeds lay in relation to to slots play an important role in how easily you can execute the control needed. When you get those spiers harps it will be revelatory.
The inherent qualities of one brand or model are probably less important than the individual setup of the particular harp. People try all these different brands and yes there are differences which are significant but 'playability' shouldn't be one of the characteristics attributable to a particular brand, at least once we are beyond the 'enthusiast' models.
Tuning, venting, comb material', reed plate thickness, chamber size, cover shape, durability though, for sure are areas of real difference where people are going to have preferences.
13 posts
Sep 26, 2017
5:55 PM
It is such a delicate thing. The dynamics. I cannot get the 2 draw to the basement. Not even close I think. And the blow bends are very difficult. Cannot control them at all. But that is how it should be I suppose because I don't know shite yet : )

The Manji opened way up after wailing on it for days. Really digging it. Still quieter and darker than the Crossover.

I feel like I have been sucking face with a cheese grater lol.

Last Edited by smagee on Sep 27, 2017 2:05 PM

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