Why Your Single Notes Sound Squeaky and Weak

Why Your Single Notes Sound Squeaky and Weak

Single Notes Sound Squeaky and Weak

Beginners and some intermediates often have single notes that sound:

:x: Weak

:x: Squeaky, or

:x: Just plain bad

When I started, for example, my -2 sounded like a dying duck! :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. :wink:

:heavy_check_mark: 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!! :see_no_evil: 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. :laughing: 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 :arrow_right: 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 :point_up_2:) .

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.

:heavy_check_mark: 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.

:bulb: 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!


Thanks @Luke !

I had become frustrated over the last couple months with my single notes. My mouth / lips would get so tense that my jaw would hurt. Of course, not only did the tone diminish, but it would become progressively more difficult to isolate a note. I knew I needed to relax, but could only start off there at the beginning of a practice session. As I played more (and would start a new lesson in Beginner to Boss), I’d get more tense. It wasn’t always like this … I used to play much more freely and relaxed. It got so bad that I just needed to step back for a bit.

Hope to get back on the wagon soon and hopefully stay relaxed. Anyway, I needed this post … much appreciated. :slightly_smiling_face:


Fortunately, I have good lips for harmonica, almost like Mick Jagger, and that’s not including bee stings. Thinner lips make it harder to hit those single notes.


Hey @burpsan - I’m so glad you came across this post. Tension is the enemy of mastery. Relaxation is the foundation of everything!

There’s no race. We have to slow down. Slow and steady wins the race! Or, as I like to put it: the faster you wanna grow, the more you have to go SLOW! :sunglasses:

You might even consider going back to the beginning of the course and starting over, and making relaxation your chief concern. In the long run, I’m sure it would pay great dividends.



Thanks @Luke !