Bending Notes

The thing which makes the harmonica sound so "bluesy" is its ability to bend some of the notes, and anyone can learn to do this using different mouth positions, like trying to say a foreign word.

So how is it done? Whilst sucking on a note you change the inside of your mouth to make it larger and thus persuading the suck note to bend down and sound lower.

Try this. If you say out loud “Eeeeeee” and then “Ooooooo” you will notice that when you say “Eeeeeee” there is a sort of normal sized space inside your mouth and then when you say “Ooooooo” your tongue moves right back in your mouth and the space opens right up. So when trying to bend notes your mouth shape needs to go from “Eeeeeee” normal note, to “Ooooooo”, bent note, “Eeeeeee”, “Ooooooo”, “Eeeeeee”, “Ooooooo”. We’ll start by trying to bend suck hole 4. Just remember what we have learnt before about playing a clear rich single note. Start by playing a suck hole 4 using the “Eeeeeee” shape inside your mouth, then change the shape inside your mouth to an “Ooooooo” whilst still sucking. This should persuade the note to bend down.

Suck bend 4 should sound sound like this

Getting the hang of this technique can take a little time so don’t be too disappointed if you can’t do it straight away. The two main key factors in this technique is producing a clear rich single note, and changing the shape of the inside of the mouth. If you aren't able to bend notes straight away then just keep experimenting with different mouth shapes until you find one that works for you. There are a few rules to bending notes.

  • Only suck notes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 will bend down.
  • Blow notes do not bend down.

If you are not having much luck with bending suck hole 4 then try bending suck hole 1, you might find this one easier. Some people find different notes easier than others to start bending on. Once you start bending one of the notes you will soon get the hang of the others.

Just a quick note about suck bend 3, this note has more than 1 bend note in it, it has a little bend and a big bend, for now we will mainly be concentrating on the suck bend little 3.

Suck bend little 3 should sound like this

Once you can bend notes ok, the next thing to try is going straight into a bent note, instead of playing a normal note followed by a bent note try playing just a bent note. Start by playing a suck hole 4 then bend it down as far as it will go then hold that bent note for a couple of seconds. Now, keeping that bent note mouth position, try playing that bent note straight away, instead of bending hole 4 downwards, like so.

On the following pages suck bend notes will be refereed to like this:

this means suck bend 4
and this means suck bend little 3

Below is a list of all the suck bend notes on the harmonica.

Bending can take quite a long time to master, so take your time, you will get it in the end.

Harmonica Lessons Featured Song
Juke - Members Only
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Today we’re going to learn "Juke" by Little Walter, probably his best known song, which he used to play as the opening theme song when he played in the Muddy Waters Band. - Complete lesson with MP3s

Your Questiuons Answered
Can I tune up my Harmonica?
The simple answer is yes. If your Harmonica goes out of tune slightly you can re-tune it using a small screw driver, a set of feeler gauges and a metal nail file. Read how to do it in the Maintenance & Tuning section.

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