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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Getting the mouth ready before playing
Getting the mouth ready before playing
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297 posts
Aug 09, 2021
6:21 AM
I am very hesitant to put my harps (especially the more expensive custom ones) in my mouth after a meal or after drinking something sugary. Although I can't back it up with evidence, I feel like it would make my instruments deteriorate faster.

So I usually brush my teeth and have a glass of water by my side when I'm playing. (My dentist tells me not to rinse right after brushing to let the fluoride do its work, but my concern here is the harps, not my teeth) If I'm not drinking water, I'm probably drinking coffee. Can that damage the harp?

Do you have any tips/tricks to get the mouth ready before starting to play, for the sake of the longevity of our precious instruments?

Last Edited by tolga7t on Aug 09, 2021 6:31 AM
Soap Music
79 posts
Aug 09, 2021
9:39 AM
Quite rightly one shouldn't eat or drink prior to playing the harmonica. Always a disadvantage when playing a gig when there is free booze and food. So yes, carry a tooth brush in your kit even if it means getting strange looks from pub goers when you are in the gent's brushing your teeth. Go the whole hog and wash your hair and have a shave while you are at it, you never know who might be in the audience. At least the teeth cleaning procedure extends the life of a £30 harp and lessens the possibility of blocking a reed when when playing.
Another issue I've had to deal with is face cramps or loss of cheek muscle control when playing for long periods without enough practice before hand, There is more than 40 muscles in your boat race. I chew gum for 4 hours ptoirto playing and that helps limber up and gets me through a 90 minute set.
Sod it, we're only here once..
Drink pints of alcohol, eat all the free food and have a bloody good night out. Nobody will remember what happened on the night, least of all you.

Last Edited by Soap Music on Aug 09, 2021 9:45 AM
3369 posts
Aug 09, 2021
3:20 PM
On a more functional note-
I don't eat when playing. I drink either water, iced tea, or maybe lemonade. I don't carry a toothbrush. My harps get a warm water gentle rinse here and there and if there's a problem reed I will pull the harp apart and clean it up in depth. It's usually a bit of lint, hair, or possibly an ort of some kind.
If this was an Olympic sport I'd worry with limbering up but as things have been for me for many years, my best warmup is to relax.
I've been in a duo for years and the high volume frenetic stages are behind me. I don't compete with anyone except myself and I try to put the most mojo on every note, but stay laid back and cool. We're out to have a good time be it in your kitchen, at a bar, or on a festival stage with a few hundred folks out there.

So for, me- functionally- yes brush before going out the door, don't worry about sugar rotting your harps, and relax. You'll do great and your harps will do great for you.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.




86 posts
Aug 09, 2021
3:28 PM
The only way to make a harp last is to NOT play it. If you are playing it enough.... it will break. You should be breaking a harp here and there on a regular basis. This means you are on track to getting better. (maybe). Don't baby your harp dude just because you wanna make it last. Eat, drink, be merry and buy replacement reed plates.
John M G
434 posts
Aug 09, 2021
5:59 PM
Just don't eat nuts or anything with desiccated coconut!
458 posts
Aug 12, 2021
1:06 AM
Hi tolga7t

I play Special 20s and Marine Bands. For over four decades, I've enthusiastically consumed beer while on stage, with no apparent damage to the harmonicas.

I suspect many of our blues harmonica heroes did the same. Perhaps custom harmonicas deserve more protection? I'll leave that to others, since I've never played one.

wolf kristiansen
202 posts
Aug 18, 2021
6:40 AM
Toothbrush, floss, rinse, spit, rinse again. Now go play.
Soap Music
82 posts
Aug 23, 2021
1:17 AM
Acoustic or electric toothbrush?
2265 posts
Aug 23, 2021
9:19 AM
For the most part I support the advice of Raven and others who advise having a clean mouth before playing.

Prior to playing a gig I clean out my mouth of anything that might clog up a reed, particularly stuff that might be caught in my teeth.

I do not extend this to abstaining from beer or whiskey during a gig, though I believe that you should swallow your beer before blowing on a harp. Probably drinking only distilled water is better for your harps, but there are limits...

However, some players have a "smart" mouth and they are not troubled by oral debris interfering with their performances. I recommend that those with "smart" mouths go right a head and eat chunky peanut butter before playing a gig.

Doug S.
188 posts
Aug 23, 2021
1:58 PM
Slightly off topic but has anybody had a severely DRY mouth before playing? This happened to me for the first time last month...I was playing my first outdoor/big gig in a year and a half, at a fairly large blues festival. Beautiful day, big crowd. Nerves, I think, playing in front of a crowd after so long in isolation? It had to be a mental thing. Did my usual pre-show deal that I have done for over 15 years: a beer, some water, took a bottle of water on stage. Felt great and then—wham!—when our set began it was like my lips were stuck to my teeth. I tried sloshing water in my mouth—nothing. Tried beer—nothing.
Turns out you do need a bit of saliva to play harmonica well..lol..it got better as the set went on, not completely gone but I got through it. Kept the riffs simple! WEIRD! Maybe I'll bring some sour lemon drops in my gig case from now on! Or sour patch kids!
3372 posts
Aug 23, 2021
6:14 PM
Tom that sounds like a good idea. I bet as you get back out this will fade and you'll relax again.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.




336 posts
Aug 24, 2021
1:18 AM
After belching into a microphone before a crowd of 100+ people during a particularly soulful "Trouble in Mind," I avoid carbonated beverages before going onstage.

The lead singer/guitarist still hasn't forgiven me.
Soap Music
83 posts
Aug 24, 2021
7:08 AM
Playing the harmonica really is a dirty business. If l had read all the above information 50 years ago, l rather think l would have concentrated glockenspiel.

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