Why Your Single Notes Sound Squeaky and Weak
Beginners and some intermediates often have single notes that sound:
Just plain bad
When I started, for example, my -2 sounded like a dying duck! Quaaack.
How can we solve this pestering problem of terrible tone? There are 2 SOLUTIONS to get us on the right track, and I want to help make them perfectly clear so that you can be on your way rocking harp like a total boss, and leave the dying ducks to the duck hunters.
SOLUTION 1: As I’ve previously discussed, the most important foundation to great tone is what I’ve been calling the deep relaxed mouth position.
Somebody who was working on the deep relaxed mouth position recently asked me:
“How far past my teeth should the harmonica be in my mouth?”
Aack! The harmonica shouldn’t be past your teeth at all!! Maybe I should change the name of this important harmonica fundamental to “the deep relaxed LIP position.” (NOTE: the more holes you want to cover with your mouth, the deeper you need to push it into your mouth. If I’m trying to play 6 holes at the same time I have to push it in way past my teeth.)
The key here is to have the UPPER LIP deep on the harmonica. I fear some people are taking the “deep relaxed MOUTH position” too literally. Having the MOIST INNER PART OF THE LIP in contact with the harmonica’s cover plate will ensure a good seal on the harmonica, which is foundational to good tone.
Good lip seal Good harmonica tone
Now when you’re a beginner, it’s best to focus on playing chordal songs, licks, and grooves (like the 5 that I’ve shared above ) .
But eventually we’ll want to learn how to isolate notes. It becomes confusing when we are transitioning to playing single notes, because the very act of trying to play a single note seems to create tension.
SOLUTION 2: draw the corners of the mouth together, and LET THE LIPS DO WHAT THEY WILL.
Of course drawing the corners of the mouth together will make the lips more “bunched up” compared to when we were just playing chords.
The trick is DON’T LET THE LIPS FIGHT BACK! Tension exists where we use our mouth/cheek muscles to draw the corners of the mouth together, but tension should NOT exist in the lips themselves. They are just going along for the ride.
You could think of it like the corners of the mouth are responsible for isolating the single note, and the lips are responsible for keeping a nice deep seal on the cover plates.
If you do that, and also keep your jaw relaxed and dropped, your throat open, and use a nice steady stream of air (not too much air pressure) then you are on your way to playing single notes with GREAT TONE!