I’m having an issue. I asked a question in the Tomlin Harmonica School chat about if I should be a full time tongue blocker because somebody told me that I would have “more control over my instrument”. Michael Rubin is pressuring me to learn tongue blocked because he says that I’ll be missing out on a lot of techniques and claims he has a bright tone. I don’t know what to do. I tried learning it, but I find tongue blocking to be very limiting with what I can do with it. I can’t wail with that embouchre. But people are saying that I’ll be happy if I make the switch. What should I do
I am a believer in the “play however you want” approach. There are advantages and disadvantages to each playing embouchure, so you should ask yourself several questions: How do I want to sound? What effects are really important to my desired playing style?
Also do not forget that there are people out there making suggestions that you learn this or that technique simply in an attempt to get you to sign up for private instruction or online “school” – with them pocketing the profit, and (not infrequently) you not really learning much that you could not have learned on your own.
If you are unhappy with what you are able to achieve with your current embouchure and really believe that what you are desiring to do can be achieved with a different embouchure, then give it a try. If you find that it is simply too difficult or time-consuming then you might want to have an honest discussion with yourself about what is really important to you when playing.
There are, as just one example, many excellent professionals (Ronnie Shellist or Rolly Platt, just to name two) who basically never (or only very rarely) use overblows and/or overdraws. Should they be put down for this? Are they really missing out on something absolutely required in order to be a good harp player? Do they really need that (so-called) “more control” over their harp that these techniques would bring?
You can also proceed as follows: Continue playing as usual, but gradually and as your skill permits, begin to use some tongue blocking to add classy and elegant elements or phrases to your current playing style. That is how I began to incorporate tongue blocking into my playing – and I only use it sparingly (sort of like adding good additional spices to a meal – too much can ruin the result, but often just a little can elevate the dish to a new level of culinary delight).
So really look at this in the same way that you have been looking at those who have criticized you for playing in the style of Terry McMillan and insist that you must play like Charlie McCoy !! And there, I think, you will find your answer to your question, “What should I do?”
There are many people who told me that lip pursing is very limiting and tongue blocking isn’t, therefore I should learn it. I felt so much pressure to learn it that I cried in my room. I’m tired of trying to fit in and just want to be myself
100% what @Slim said.
You sould absolutly be yourself, not just in terms of Harmonica, but in life. I know it’s easier to say than to do, it probably took me more than half my life to figure that out (I’m in my 40s, lol) but trust me, it is worth it. Even if you don’t feel there yet, you will find your way.
Learning to play is about expressing yourself, the techniques you learn are all just means to that end.
If that’s their phrasing then maybe it gives at least an indication that they don’t really understand the alternative style to blocking (i.e. what you are already using), since done properly it’s not lip pursing? Maybe they’ve never tried it?
As others have written, there is no single “one path for all”.
Find your own path & follow it.
PS. It sounds as though they’d probably feel that Todd should quit ‘pursing’ & switch to full time tongue blocking too? Do you believe
that? Do you think Todd does?
They think that since you can do all of these different techniques tongue blocked that it adds more expression if you do lip pursed. By the way, the people who say these things to me are full time tongue blockers
It’s all about delivering air pressure, from within to push, or to draw from without. Try everything, except maybe burping. curling the tongue helps isolate holes, tongue block after you get comfortable with other styles and you will find you don’t actually have to put your tongue on the comb, just enough to push the air to the sides to your intended target.
As long as you come back to the down beat on time, diatonic harps are forgiving. Remember the I, IV, V chords, 1-4 push I chord(unless cross harp then draw), 1-4 draw is IV, (unless cross position aka 2nd) and 4-6 draw for V chord. Then from there work the singles or double notes, just breathe, don’t be like an air compressor and blow or draw it 100 psi.
I dabbled with a bit of U-blocking but it’s difficult to get the hold of. I was told it was only for people who can genetically can curl their tongue and it’s never taught anywhere.
Actually, Todd learned more tongue blocking during the pandemic because some of his newer students wanted to learn tongue blocking. He is more of a lip purser that sometimes uses octaves and stills considers himself as one.
Very good post Slim. As a fairly beginner I’m hearing all the opinions on tongue blocking advice. I’m taking your advice and mainly lip pursing for now anyway but still going to try to learn tongue blocking slowly as well. Incorporate it in here and there. I agree it’s personal preference for sure. As you said there are pros and cons to both I’m sure but I’ve kind of concluded knowing both techniques can’t hurt! Thanks for the informative post!
You are very welcome. Good luck on your way to becoming a proficient harp player!
If you can’t curl your tongue, maybe just lift sides a little, if not. You can still use your tongue to guide your air, push or draw. I played since a child, my dad hated everything but Lawrence Welk. So I had to play quietly, which gave me experience at air control. Just keep trying different ways to send or draw air to the harp. It will come, I was like 10, so if I can do it so can you.
Tongue blocking, to me, is advanced, learn to do chords and singles without tongue blocking, then try later. And like I said before, you don’t have to lay your tongue on the comb to guide the air, feel the air flow, use your mind’s eye and imagine it. 80% inspiration 20% perspiration.
I’m not a beginner. I’ve been playing for 5 years lip pursed with some tongue blocking in it. Some people want me to change to full time tongue blocking, but it doesn’t fit the sound that I’m going for.
Ive heard all sorts of great stuff coming out of tongue block players. I only occasionally “put my tongue around” to break the sound up and truthfully I have no rhyme or reason to my approach. Its a personal choice and depends on what kind of sounds are appealing to you. I won’t be spending any time on it but thats not to say it shouldnt be something great to do. I’m just too old a dog to learn that new trick.
I am not either, got some time than you do, 1967, Bob Dylan period, I was 9.
I find tongue blocking completely unnecessary unless doing a two holer and blocking the middle, but even that isn’t needed. It is about the sound, The Sound.
Now I want you to know that my mother at three years old played a comb with paper in 1934. It is the sound, just the sound, so don’t give in, but also don’t forget to explore your sound. Delivery always changes the sound, position, breath, amp, no amp, different microphones, the room, outside.
Wow,thanks for sharing.
Good advice…I’m not only an almost exclusive tongue blocker, but a “U” blocker who has been told for years that I’d never progress unless I learned to pucker and side block. I gave that effort up 30 years ago and have never looked back.
Great advice - go slow BUT go.