Tonguing/articulation issue on hole 2 and 1

Hey, so I’m practicing basic articulation by beginning notes with the syllable TA, which is easy enough, except for some reason I find that tonguing on hole 2 and sometimes hole 1 triggers the beginning of a bend. I can’t get rapid tongue articulation of successive notes on hole 2 for example. I know hole 2 is notoriously difficult for beginners, but I can do it just fine without tonguing, but the moment I need to use tonguing for articulation, it starts to trigger a bit of a bend/dip in the note.

Any suggestions?


Well, through trial and error I may have found the solution to my issue. I’ve found that the syllable TA that my book recommends is fine for blow notes, but on draws (most notably the 2 hole draw which requires a bit of a lower jaw position and open throat) the TA syllable actually forces me to close my jaw a bit in order to articulate the ta. The higher jaw position needed for me to articulate TA interferes with the lower jaw/open throat position I use to get a clean 2 hole draw.

The conclusion I’ve come to: I tried Ka for draws, which unlike Ta is articulated more in the back of the throat and allows me to keep that lower jaw position needed for the 2 hole draw and still articulate the notes.

I’m not sure though. I’ll keep working on it. It would be interesting to read if any of you have come to similar conclusions.


Here’s a link to a short video of Felipe Jers talking about the exact issue that I’m having and still working on.

Unfortunately he doesn’t mention how to fix it in that video :sweat_smile:

Hi @Fortheo

Unfortunately I probably cannot help you much, but I will try.

To start with – and perhaps this is just a problem for me – but I cannot do KA articulations nearly as rapidly as I can do TA articulations. It seems to me that the KA articulation involves movement of more tongue tissue than does the TA articulation, where only the tip and perhaps a little bit of tongue tissue behind the tip needs to be moved – so less mass is moving, and this means less effort to do it.

Perhaps also you are overdoing it with the open jaw position. This can make it difficult to get the tip of the tongue into the correct position for TA and then complete the tongue movement from the start (the “T”) to the end position (the “A”) without accidentally bending the tone. To test this, try doing your -2 articulation (with TA) but having your jaw somewhat less open than you currently do. If this still does not work, then try closing the jaw even a tiny bit more. We are talking here about very minimal differences in the jaw position.

Beyond that you should take care so that you are not drawing too strongly and that only the tip area of the tongue is moving away from your upper gum-tooth margin, and that your entire tongue is not moving.

I hope that this helps and is sort of understandable (though I can completely understand that it might not be so clear what I mean).

Let us know how you are progressing,
– Slim :sunglasses:


Thanks slim. I’ve found that the best way for me to tongue on the 2 hole draw thus far is to first just play a basic 2 hole draw without tongue, make sure I get it clean and in tune, and then keep that shape at all costs while tonguing. If I try to tongue TA the way I would if I were to actually speak it, this does indeed mess up my jaw position and mess up my intonation, but the solution seems to be to keep my jaw position and instead just move the tip of my tongue a bit and articulate a tiny bit further back almost more like a Da or NA. I find the articulation of the note comes out with an attack close enough to what Ta provides.

For now, I’m just going to accept this as part of my style I guess. I think tonguing and articulation must be something that many players use differently, due to various shapes of our mouth cavities and tongues.


Exactly!! Do not move the jaw, only the tip of the tongue. And it sounds like you had the tip too far forward. Now that you have the tip a bit more back, like for the Da sound, I think you have it. :point_left: :+1:

– Slim :sunglasses:


I remember somewhere on this forum mentioning to @Luke that I had a defective 2 draw on my Lee Oskar in A. He told me it was likely the harp.

He was right!

Subtlety and finesse are the two words that come to mind when I finally “fixed” my harp :joy:

I’ve never really done Ka’s or Ta’s, rather just played same note on keyboard, till I could get it right.

I too would go into a bend instead of a strong sounding note on the 2 draw.

Obviously, on a standard tuned diatonic harp, the setup generally has the 3 blow as same note, so that’s an out, but as @Luke also said, the draw on that not has a different and more bluesy quality to it.

As @Slim says, there are very subtle changes in mouth position which can make a difference, and not only on the 2 draw or 1 draw. I think each harp can be a little different and I find myself adjusting to each subtly as I play it.

Sounds like you are getting it though @Fortheo, congrats for that :tada: :rocket:

Harp on!


@Fortheo great thread here! An issue that we all have faced. The key with this is to stay curious - and to use the ears and EXPLORE how mouth movements change what you’re hearing compared to what you want to hear.

I can say for me: I can do Ta and Ka on all blows and draws without bending pitch. Sometimes it requires changing the shape of the mouth (Experiment with Tuh and Kuh for round tone and Tee Tee for bright tone, and notice how pitch may fluctuate)

With harmonica it’s kinda crazy because there’s more than one mouth shape that might achieve a similar sound.

Sometimes you have to ease off on how HARD you can play a note. Bear in mind I PLAYED TOO HARD FOR AT LEAST 20 YEARS!!! And you can talk to many harmonica veterans I’m sure who will tell you the same thing. So less is more often. “Don’t try harder, try easy.”

@Slim - Faster than TA or KA is Ta-Ka
No way I could ever do a triplet on one note as fast as I can saying Ta-Ka-Ta

BTW - I recently learned from my wife that trumpeters use these same syllables, and call it “Double Tonguing” and “Triple Tonguing.

And Indian Classical musicians use the syllables Ta Ka Di Mi for their rhythmic solfège in duple pulses. (Notice the first two of the four? You can’t say “Di-Mi” with your lips on a harmonica. :wink:)

So TA and KA are not just something someone plucked out of the air. They are ancient syllables you can find deeply embedded in musical technique across instruments and genres.

Stay curious, keep exploring, and keep PLAYING. :sunglasses::notes:


Actually, the same terms for flute playing as well !! I just sort of “forgot” it ! :crazy_face:

– Slim :sunglasses:


Yes in my previous life playing trumpet we would change articulation for strings of 32nd notes. One of the more effective ones I was taught was Tu-tu-ku-tu. With some practice you can get it to work with just the Tu and it can be very fast. Really just flicking the tip of your tongue. If you are not strict about counting however it is easy to quickly forget where you are at in time. The ku can help with syncopation but it is a very light tonguing, almost the reflex of resetting the tongue but it does make a note.

On the harmonica I find that you have to be careful about what articulation you use if you want specific tone and that can make some of these harsher articulations less useful. Usually however, I find I am less worried about tone on faster notes. This is probably because I am not that good at harmonica yet. Also keep in mind, nobody worries about saliva in a brass instrument. It just pools at the release valves and you dump it out. This can be killer on the harmonica as it will jam it up. I sometimes change articulation just to avoid this, especially on 2 hole blow notes and working on bends which change my embouchure. Make sure to look up. When Luke discusses using specific articulations in songs I find using those does make the sound closest to his sound. If you want a different sound, changing those can change it but it takes a lot of trial and error (at least for me) to get the sound I think I want.

There are a lot of people better at this than me. Sometimes when I get stuck on something I will look at 5-6 videos on you tube with different opinions and try to hybridize it into something that makes sense to me. I hope this helps.


Eeee is the brightest vowel shape and Uhhh or Oo like “Book” is the darkest.

Of course as you pointed out tone is less of concern on a fast note than on a sustained note.

Always tap your harmonica against your palm after playing, or sometimes when I’m tongue blocking a lot I’ll take a break for some tapping.

Rinsing harmonicas under hot tap water works wonders for saliva buildup on reeds.