What's Your Experience Learning Draw Bends?

I was chatting with a student in the Beginner to Boss course who asked me about the -2" bend.

In my experience the first notes people can bend are usually -4’ and -1’. Usually in that order, occasionally the opposite. After that the -2’ and -3’ and -6.

And then after that you’ve probably been working at it long enough, you can probably get the -2 down to the -2". The path is different for everyone. But that’s probably pretty common kind of progression…

All the bends available on the 10-hole diatonic harp, let’s say a C harmonica for example:

-1’
-2’ and -2’’
-3’ and -3’’ and -3’’’
-4’
(-5 bends only 1/4 step, so is discluded from topic)
-6’

So there are a total of 8 draw bends that we can play on a standard diatonic 10 hole harmonica that correspond to keys on a piano (there are technically infinite number of notes we can play when bending because we can make such minute adjustments - which is why the technique is so expressive like our voices - but 8 places we can bend to will be perfectly in tune with keys on the piano.)

I guess in order of difficulty, imo, I’d say the hardest bends to achieve at the beginning are:

  1. -3’’
  2. -3’’’
  3. -2’’ (especially in the lower keys like A, G, LF.)

But then again, some people just “go big or go home” and get the -2" right off the bat. In fact my 2-year-old son just did it accidentally, lol.

What’s your experience? What bend did you get first? What bend(s) are you having trouble with?

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Yes, my experience has been quite different. For me, the 4 draw bend was difficult in the beginning, and is still the most difficult (I have only been working on my bends for a couple months, though). The 2 draw, by contrast, bends with almost no effort — I sometimes have to make sure it DOESN’T bend when I don’t want it to. 3 draw is also an easy bend for me and I love honking away on the Spoonful rif with it.
(Side note: I wish I could find the tabs for the whole “Spoonful” song in 2nd position. The tabs I have found for the whole song move it up to 1st position, which just doesn’t sound meaty enough. Tried to transpose it myself, but couldn’t get it to sound right)

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Hey, I struggled for ages. Thought i’d never ever be able to bend. Then when i got on to your bending app, it all just took off.I can bend all the notes now but the only one i have trouble with , strangely enough is the one you say is the easiest ‘draw 4’…I can get it within a midge’s nudger of perfect, but hardly ever get it complete.
I’m 'pulling from deep down in my diaphram, yet still not hitting the Bull.
Must be my tongue/throat position.

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Hey Lang - welcome to the forum! So happy to have you here. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

Howlin’ Wolf’s version of Spoonful is in the key of A, so you’ll need an A harmonica to play along.

The melody he sings is like:

-4 6 6 6 -5 -4 -4 -4’ -4
6 6 6 -5 -4 -4 -4
6 6 6 -5 -4 -4 -3’ -2
-4’ -4 -3’ 4 -2 -2
-4 4 -3’ -2 -2 -2
-4’ -4 -4 4 -3’ -2 -2 -2
-4’ -4 -4 -4’ 4 -3’ -2
6 6 -4 4 -3’ -2

Hope that helps!

Rock on,
Luke

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Right on! Yes, the Bend-It-Better tool is AMAZING.

For beginners it’s helpful to confirm if a bend is happening at all. And for intermediate and advanced players it’s great for working on really bending in tune. It’s even helpful for working on moving from tremolo to vibrato to see if the pitch is actually fluctuating or not. I need to use it more often!!!

You’re exactly right. Bending is not an issue of diaphragm, but of tongue/throat position. The good news is your bending holes 1 -3 so CONGRATS ON THAT!

Pay attention to what your mouth is doing and the movement in your mouth are slightly smaller and more forward (toward the teeth) as you’re bending holes that have higher pitches.

Play with that, and keep me posted how it goes!

Rock on,
Luke

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Thanks! that gives me something to try to wrap my lips around for a while! It also heads me toward the answer of a question I have been pondering: What key should my SECOND harmonica be?

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My first bends came just as you suggested @Luke, by tipping up the harmonica to provide less air flow into the holes. Then I started to try and block partially the air going into each hole with my lips and that helped but I wasn’t doing it with "Deep Relaxed Mouth Position, so it didn’t give me a very good sound on any of the bends, rather a low, breathy, shallow sound.

I kept at it and kept trying to get to bends by changing my tongue position in my mouth. I also began to notice the bends came better when I closed off the air on the front of the harmonica with my hands. In particular, I just realized that when my middle finger of left hand blocks air on front vent that I get there more consistently.

Restricting the air flow coming into the harmonica it makes it easier for me to get the bends while also making it easy to create a nice “Wawa” effect by moving my hands allowing more or less air flow.

So far they’re not perfect but slowly but surely I’m beginning to get the idea. :bulb:

Thanks for all your help and great advice!

Here’s me jamming :blush:

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I’ve been really digging my A harmonica. And that’ll let you play blues in E, every guitar player’s favorite key. :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

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Love it! Whatever you gotta do to get it to bend is all g, as long you’re keeping that top lip nice and deep on the cover plate! Thanks for sharing the pic.

Rock on,
Luke

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@lang based on what Luke says, sounds like an A for an E in cross harp is sounding like a contender for my 2nd harp :blush:

Any particular reason why guitar players like E @Luke?

The top and bottom string on a guitar are E, so it’s really easy to play in open position.

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Learn something new everyday! Thanks @Luke. I really admire people who can play any instrument well, but the guitar in particular seems so cool :sunglasses: :+1:

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I struggled for the longest time with the bend on -4, and I must have seen at least 100 videos on the topic, but eventually I got the hang of it, and I practice to get it to sound in tune all the time

For -3 I can get the note down but it sounds very stuck, still I am practicing on that too, same thing with -2, don’t know if it’s my technique or if it’s because the -2 and -3 are very delicate, but ai will get there

-1 was impossible for me to get any bend on until yesterday when I was playing around, and I noticed the note changed, so I went to the Bend It Better tool, and the note, although not in tune, did bend a bit, so I’m gonna practice more on that one too

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Hey @Vibe - congrats on your progress with bending man! Good for you for using the Bend it Better tool to confirm for your ear what’s going on.

That’s awesome that you’re getting the -3’’’ and it’s normal for it to sound “wonky.” That bend is not used often except for in more advanced stuff. Better off focusing on trying to be able to play -3’ and -3" in tune, which takes a lifetime to master, in my opinion. (I actually got some hate email recently for saying that lol, but I’m still saying it because it’s my honest experience!)

Still, the MOST important bends for Blues:
-4’
-3’
-2’’
-1’

Those are the notes that are in the Blues scale. Those are the ones I would focus on being able to play well FIRST. And then after that the -2’ and -3’’. Like I said before -3’’’ is least important for 2nd position Blues playing.

You’re getting the -1’ to bend a bit - that’s AWESOME! If you play the -4’ and then -1’ and notice the difference inside of your mouth, you can probably tell the tongue is further back when doing the -1’ and the back of your throat is bigger. Soft palate is raised like it is when we yawn. So to get the -1’ down further, and to get the -2" you’ve just got to exaggerate those movements.

Hope that helps! You’re doing great, @Vibe! Keep up the good work my friend.

Rock on,
Luke

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Hey @Luke thanks for the tips!

I cannot believe you got hate over an honest opinion and for speaking what you believe is the truth. Some people just have no chill. I hope you will not let hate get to you

I will keep focusing on the bends of the blues scale that you mentioned, and even if it does take a life time to get there, the journey is equally as important as the destination

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“some people have no chill.” Ha! Love it! Yeah haters gonna hate. One of my old pastors used to say “if you don’t have any enemies you must not be doing much.”

You’re on the path @Vibe. Rock on my friend.

Aloha,
Luke

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Gerry (Poppo) here. Got my new Fender and Hohner harmonicas from you guys today. Thanks so much… I thought I was bending last week, either lost the ability or wasn’t really bending…I think probably the latter. Anyway, have gone through the “how to bend a Note”, cannot seem to bend 4. I once in a while seem to get it but it is VERY fleeting, Now using the 'Bend-it tool" However, I am able to bend hole 1 to Db and hold it with ease. I can feel the vibration in my ‘gut’, and my lungs Sometimes it seems like I am getting a VERY quick bend on 4, doesn’t even usually show on the Bend-it tool, but I cannot seem to slow it down, let alone stabilize it. On my Delta Frost (G) I can bend draw 2 a full tone sometimes musical with no control, I can sometimes make a non-musical noise that the tool reads as either F, E, Or D# on reed 3. Any suggestions other than keep trying?

I’m digging my A to Luke. I’m mainly playing the Hohner Special 20’s but I’ve got an A harp in the Hohner Blues Harp with the timber comb and I was wondering if that was the reason for such a great tone that it has. I love the Special 20’s because they are easier on the mouth but if the timber comb is the reason for the richer sound I might have to go this way. What’s your take on that Luke?

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Yep nothing has that “woody” tone like a wooden combed harmonica. I agree with you one hundred percent.

Rock on,
Luke