Blues Harmonica 1

Hi guys,

I need some help. There is a particular exercise in Blues 1 that I am struggling with:

3 -3 -4 -5 6 -5 -4 -3
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4

It is not the single notes ( I am working on those, and this Blues section is great for improving my hit rate, so to speak!). The problem is the suck over the 3 notes. With blowing, I have found it fairly easy to sustain a note, or continue on to the next one. But, after a few times playing this exercise, my lungs feel like they are going to implode at the end of the 2nd note on the suck, so eventually after a couple of times, there is no more inhalation left!

I know this is to do with breathing control, but is there a method that I can learn that will help me inhale over a longer period and at a controlled and steady pace (to avoid unwanted and descending vibrato! :-\ ).

If I then take the suck a stage further to play the 2 draw instead of the 3 blow, then that is 7 sucks around the 6 blow. Obviously, that is miles away for me at the moment, but would like to know how you guys have worked around the inhalation over a sustained period (over several notes).



Well Craigster –

I understand this portion:

3 -3 -4 -5 6 -5 -4 -3

I don’t necessarily understand this portion:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4

The top part looks like a part of the Blues Scale without any bends.

The Blues Scale here:

2D 3D’ 4B 4Db 4D 5D 6B

So even in doing your top portion, how are you running out of breath without bending?

Now if you’re talking about holding a note for a count of 4…Just how long and and what speed is your count?? Slow, medium, fast…or any combination in between??

And since you’re not doing any bending here – Then perhaps taking a page out of Jon Gindick’s playbook might help. Meaning, he says to isolate each hole - 1 through 10 - and play every note - Blow and Draw - for a period of only 10 seconds.

That is, if your first few times is only say 3-4 seconds on each note, okay. Yet over time you should be able to concentrate on and strengthen your “abdominal” breathing patterns. Then work your way up to the 10-second mark. And use this as the maximum hold. Why?

If you have the super lungs of a JP Allen, Howard Levy or other greats and are showing off those skills – Well really actually, it’s not necessary to go beyond holding a note for more than 10 seconds! 7-8 seconds sounds as good and as skillful as any longer.

Be that as it may…

Learning breathing on the harp are lessons all to themselves. Mike Stevens says although the illusion is that one has strong lungs, they actually have stronger ab/stomach muscles…yet nobody comments on this.

That’s great to know. As I smoke and I have that 12-pack to a case or more abs!

Yeah I drink too. But I also ride my bike around town and other physical activities to help me sustain those long blows and draws as I like and see fit!

Hope this helps!

Keep On Harpin’!

lol! Sorry The bottom part is just the beat. On the exercise, it seems to be a couple of seconds sucking for each note, at least at the slow pace. It probably speeds up.

The exercise is: -

3B, 3D, 4D, 5D, 6B, 5D, 4D, 3D then back to either 3B or 2D (which I haven’t got the breath left for!). Maybe the way of doing it is breathing out through the nose, which I have been trying, but with all the concentration on the tongue, the breath, moving the mouth without taking it off the harmonica etc, adding the nose in there as well, is like a crazy face-juggling act! I will get there, just will keep on practicing and then some.

Great advice about building up stomach muscles, though I never thought playing harmonica would include riding around on my bike! Oh well 2 birds, one stone!!

As for the drinking bit, I am a whiskey man myself, so one of these days hopefully I will in sippin’ whiskey and playing a blues tunes in between!

Have kinda got the easier blues dvd as a goal for when I go camping in a few weeks in France. The whiskey just will help with sleeping under a tent!

Which reminds me of a joke!: -

[i]"Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson goes on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend.

‘Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes,” replies Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.

“Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes is silent for a moment. ‘Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
Anyhow, will practice on the suck note, and try and build up to 7-10 seconds. The sustained blow bit is easier, as you learn how to control that side singing etc.


Craigster :smiley: :wink:

Your on the right path Craigster! Breath in, all the way down to the diaphragm in your stomach, not just your lungs. You will soon realize how little air it takes to make that harp produce its sound. Some notes need more air than others but nun need a vacuum.
One of my practice exorcises I did in the beginning was at the start of each practice I would play One Single Note and hold it for say 8 bars. Next day hold it for 9 bars, next day 10 bars. This will help you expand your lungs, learn air control, etc.
Something pointed out to me at a Jam Camp Setting was as you inhale you have 3 cavities to fill with air. When you start inhaling first you feel your chest expand, next you will feel your belly fill and expand with air, you will feel pretty full at this point but there is an additional pocket available if you roll your shoulders back and continue to inhale you will feel feel pockets at the top of your shoulders expand. This last area is seldom used by most people that don’t use their lungs completely and needs to be exercised.

wow, didn’t know that about the last cavity - thanks PB! Will have to try that.

Yeah, think I will add that long 1 note suck into my daily exercises, thanks guys! :slight_smile:

I wasn’t aware of it either till the siminar. It isn’t very large but will help add a few bars of playing. Also take advantage of the rests in the music to get rid of extra air. Plus long or whole notes can be cut short by one beat sometimes to help get rid of some air. You don’t have to get rid of all the air, just make room to keep going.

As you can see, we discussed breathing exercises several times around the forum:

Here’s JP’s lessons on the Blues Scale:

Enjoyed the No Shit Sherlock joke! Hehehehe!

Keep On Harpin’!

OK, here’s the trumpet man’s breathing excersize. My students found it very helpful.
First, never try to expand your chest to breathe, and don’t lift your shoulders for a deep breath. There are times when a shoulder lift is good for special purposes with instruments that require extreme breath support for extreme range, etc. (screaming trumpets for example), but this is for special purposes. Many pros teach against the practice. Avoid shoulder lifting like the plague.
Now…take a not quite full (of water) plastic or paper 12 ounce or larger drinking cup.
Lie flat on the floor on your back with the cup balanced on your chest. Breathe deeply.
You will quickly learn to expand your stomach to draw in breath. Breathe with your chest, and you will get a big surprise.
Oh yeah…put a towel under you before you begin.
Here’s another thing:
Use a tape measure (a dress maker’s cloth one) and measure around your chest at rest…not with all your air blown out, but at rest. Now measure with your chest expanded as far as possible. Do the same around your middle just above your belly button. You’ll be surprised at how much more your stomach can expand than your chest. Your chest is designed to flex, not really to expand. All that stomach expansion is the displacement you make for air in your lungs. Expanding your abdominal wall draws down your diaphragm, which pulls air into your lungs with greater force than what little expansion you can get from your chest. Note that some increase in chest measurement is from muscle flex, and not from increase interior area of your chest cavity.
Once you get the nack of breathing with your stomach, practice regularly. When you can hold a candle or match at arms length and blow it out with your mouth stretched wide open, you’re learning breath support. Oh yeah…use the stomach muscles to push air out of your lungs too.
If you feel your throat doing ANYTHING, you’re not breathing correctly. You’ll find you will feel better and be able to do more when you learn to breathe correctly too. Relax your throat and your chest and your back and your shoulders. Use only those muscles that are absolutely necessary to perform the task. When you have mastered this, then you can try to snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.
Joking aside, this works. I have used this successfully with my students (award winners) and myself (money winner).


Cheers guys!

SPD - thanks for the forum links - I have been looking through a lot of posts trying to find a similar point, so good to have those links! That video that you posted from Jason Ricci is particularly useful for breathing. Kinda getting the breathing thing better, especially if I don’t concentrate on it, and just breath normally from the diaphragm.

BB - will try out that exercise, nice one!

Ta, :wink:


I have been looking through a lot of posts trying to find a similar point, so good to have those links!

Although we’re still a young forum as compared to other longer more established ones around Harmonica Universe – You’ll note our fine members have and do contribute quite nicely to the discussions and topics at hand. :slight_smile:

So using the “Search” functions will help you, anyone, everyone find their ways around here more better most definitely! :wink:

Keep On Harpin’! 8)

You mentioned inhalation over a few sustained notes…here is my take.

The more you play harmonica, the more you will realize that it does not really take that much breath to do it!

With that in mind…just try to see how little breath you can use! Ration it! It will come with time, and nothing else!

Thats my 2.5 cents!


I think you may be leaking air in through your nose. Also when you do the blow notes let air escape from your nose or between your upper lip and the top cover of the harmonica.

thanks guys! I will try those suggestions.

LOL, I learned how to Belly Breath when I was 14 years old and studying Martial Arts. Now it’s the only way I breath. ;D