Blow or draw?

Gang…the way I see it (or hear it), aside from the physical part of learning the harmonica, for me so far, the options to either blow or draw on a hole present a challenge. Now, I don’t read music, but I can understand the tabs which, obviously, tell you if you should blow or draw. It’s when you don’t have the tabs in front of you…is it just a matter of remembering? Or at some point will one’s ear tell you what you should do? In other words, do you become so familiar with the instrument that instinct takes over and your inner ear tells you what to do? I’m used to playing guitar…and while there are six different strings and a jillion different frets, when you pluck a string, there are few options…to oversimplify it, you pluck it or you don’t. With the harp, you’ve got the option to blow or draw…and while you can HEAR the correct technique, most times you’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong. Is it just a matter of memory and constant practice? Or does anyone have a magical tip?


Hi @jackcardone28

You have it: memory & practice. There is no shortcut. If you have a good ear for pitch then eventually that will probably take over (that is sort of how @HarpinBobbyMcB – another forum member – does it).

– Slim :sunglasses:


Hello @jackcardone28,
I think part of it is getting familiar with the different pitches and harps. Another important part is disposition and a good sense of hearing the sounds.

You also have to distinguish between improvising songs. Of course, knowing the harps is important here. Just like with songs that are very familiar to me and I can spontaneously hum or whistle.

But if I play songs that I like but are still unfamiliar with, I need the tabs or, even better, notation (here, as is well known, the pitch, rhythm, etc. are easier to read).

Conclusion: Every harp player will and must find his own system. The same applies to the font of tabs.
Some prefer to work with up and down arrows, others with + and -.

Exciting like a crime thriller, right :wink:?

Greetings from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:


I am a bit deaf. I can’t sing AT ALL. I have found it hard sometimes to even tell if notes are are higher or lower than the previous note when listening to a tune. The bend it better tool is very useful. Playing scales is for me a must. Just like learning to drive a manual car after a while you just know when to change gear. It’s practice in what ever form suits your lifestyle. Also only play tunes you know the melody of really well so your ear can connect the note to the hole. I didn’t get anywhere until I stopped trying to play blues and picked up a few classical pieces. I have no experience with blues and don’t know the melodies. Some guys practise with nursery songs because they really know the tune so they only have to learn the holes and connect the two. If your trying to learn both it’s way too hard. In the course you have the tabs. Even then most of the tunes are familiar. This is of course my take on it. Others do it differently. Toog


I’ve noticed on here that many folks read music, sadly I don’t. I haven’t let that stop me from playing harmonica for more than 40 years. I’ve gigged with bands for a large part of that time and had no complaints. I blew scales by ear way back in the day, just long enough to consistently get single notes. Then I learned the difference between 1st position (melody, emphasis on blow) and 2nd position (blues, emphasis on draw) then immersed my self in the blues for many years. With the blues I just have to know what key the song is in and pick the right harp, the rest just flows out naturally from years of playing. 1st position, melodies don’t come easily to me because I play by ear and have to slowly pick my way through, then practice over and over until I memorize a reasonable facismally. That’s a long way of saying how I choose blow or draw.


Thanks, man. Yeah, I’m gathering it just comes with playing. I’m just being a little bratty and impatient I guess. I’ll get over it. Thanks again…much appreciated.