THE PYRAMID APPROACH TO MASTERING
CHROMATIC HARMONICA TECHNIQUE TONGUE EMBOUCHER
Why You Want To Learn it, and How To Do It
For those who love playing CHROMATIC harmonica (“Yes…I am speaking directly to YOU now!”,) and who evidence some sort of approach to musical development having some chance of success (that means listening to music, playing to CDs, reading, and watching videos on YouTube, daily enjoyment of scales, AND of course playing music every day) the day will come, sooner rather than later… when you are going to take the leap and start developing your TONGUE EMBOUCHURE.
Not that I recommend it to you in your first few months of playing, you’ll likely have your hands full with breath control (the subject of another article and of great importance to your progress) and just learning where the notes are.
Actually, there are 3 embouchures used today: 1) The rolled tongue, which I feel is of little value or use to anyone, 2) The PUCKER which is the dominant technique used worldwide by players of most types of music on harmonica, and 3) the technique used by professionals and talented amateurs…THE TONGUE EMBOUCHURE.
I’m going to give you a quick recap of TONGUE EMBOUCHURE, then explain the limitations of the PUCKER embouchure, then provide much more detail on TONGUE EMBOUCHURE… but first, allow me to peak your interest in TONGUE EMBOUCHURE, to begin our journey, let’s define it:
HOW TO DO IT
TONGUE EMBOUCHURE involves the placing of your lips in a relaxed pose over the mouthpiece and it will naturally occur that about three holes are open between the left and right sides of your lips. Do not tighten or purse your lips, stay relaxed. The tongue is then allowed to go forward in your mouth until it comes into contact with the mouthpiece of your chromatic harmonica.
If you take your tongue and slide it to the left, it will cover the two leftmost holes leaving a single tone to play on the far right side of your mouth. By sliding your tongue to the far right of your mouth, you open the hole on the far left of your mouth. So you are getting single notes by covering some with your tongue: thus the name TONGUE EMBOUCHURE .
The technique can be expanded by opening the mouth more at the sides to allow up to 5 holes open, which if you cover the center three with your tongue give you……YES, you are right…and octave: two notes of the same pitch separated by one octave. A nice technique to enjoy indeed!
There are some very important ramifications of using TONGUE EMBOUCHURE, of great use to you.
WHY IT’S BETTER FOR YOU
First, it’s more comfortable and that means MORE RELAXATION while playing, and that means better music. The ARTS are not done well when you are tense, the audience doesn’t like it, you don’t like it. Recording equipment and microphones don’t like it.
The PUCKER embouchure requires you to create a hole constructed with the shape of your lips which approximates a circle, and this “circle” is placed over mouthpiece and moved to get different notes. But you have to keep the lips pursed, and this gets tiring after about 5 minutes. It’s an excellent technique for the beginner, and it’s a nice shift every now and then to mix things up with TONGUE EMBOUCHURE, but it is not really the right technique for you as you grow.
And you can play multiple notes at the same time with this technique…that’s a big plus! PERHAPS THE BIGGEST PLUS of the tongue embouchure is that you can make jumps in notes without actually moving the harmonica at all, you just slide your tongue to one side or the other.
A jump from C to G on a blow is thus easy, as is D to A on a draw with the slide out, or with slide in: C# to G# on blow, and D# to G# on a draw. Opening the center area to encompass a 4 notes span gives you more note options, and when you can span 5 holes cleanly you’ve got octaves.
I’ve found that the tongue embouchure cuts my workload about 50% overall.
The better designed harmonicas make TONGUE EMBOUCHRE a lot easier, this is why Suzuki went with a curved half circle shaped mouthpiece, departing from the 3 angled mouthpiece used over the last 60+ years by the rest of the pack. You have to experience Suzuki’s mouthpiece to grasp what it delivers! It also explains why the Suzuki Sirius (a pro harmonica in every sense) offers a contiguous flow of design shape from the curved mouthpiece to the covers…it facilitates easy tongue embouchure.
You can use the TONGUE EMBOUCHURE with angled mouthpieces such as you’d find on a Hohner 280C, it just will require a bit more concentration and technique and patience. Initially, you will lose some of your punch on a BEND (where you use air flow changes in your mouth to bring a given pitch up or down by about a half tone) but eventually you can do everything with TONGUE EMBOUCHURE you can with PUCKER.
Tip # 1:
Keep your lips wet. This embouchure requires wet lips because you’ll be sliding the harmonica left and right with your hands, so keep them wet.
NEVER use salves or lubricants when you’re playing so make your lips slide more easily over the mouthpiece…as these will get into the harmonica and screw up the breath savers big time, requiring a trip back to the manufacture for cleaning. (I explain how to clean and properly lubricate a slide in another article.)
Take your time learning this technique, a couple minutes on day one is plenty. Give your body a chance to adjust. Of course, you can make leaps of one hole, two holes, or any hole leap you want easily, just slide the harmonica left or right with your hands, which repositions where the holes are relative to your set embouchure.
Some find that the technique works best when they use the underside of the tip of their tongue on the mouthpiece, others just move their tongue directly forward into the mouthpiece. You will adjust quickly and find your playing improves considerably in short order.
This is the embouchure used by the Pros…and you’ll understand why in about 2 hours of playing, so start enjoying it today! Of course, it’s also common for pros who predominantly use the TONGUE EMBOUCHURE to go back and forth between it and PUCKER every now and then…just to mix things up. (Some prefer to bend notes using the PUCKER embouchure.) And check out the videos on YOUTUBE which explain the technique, we’re shooting a video soon too to help you.
Good luck…you can do it!