Harmonica/Advance techniques



Overbending, commonly called overblow and overdraw, is a difficult technique to master. The physics are simple to explain: In overblow, a normally drawn reed would vibrate upon the blow airflow, and in overdraw a normally blown reed would vibrate upon the draw airflow. This is the reason why it cannot be done on a harmonica with windsavers.

Because the opposite reed commonly acts as a buffer for excess air, this is easier said than done. Furthermore, on holes that have windsavers, this cannot be done. The sound is also harsher, similar to the sound of a hard pressed organ key.

Overblowing is done the same way as a bend in the upper register, by tightening the jaw, bringing the tongue up slightly, and trying to sound the desired harmonic. To improve overbend, one can make the gap between the reeds and the plate smaller.

On a chromatic, these can be done from hole 8 to 12. On a tremolo, they can be done on every hole.





Also known as grace notes, this usually involve playing a note a half-step lower/higher real quick and then play the actual piece. if nt indicated, this is usually fine in blues, rocks, and jazz. On a harmonica, you can use one of the following:

Slide jabs


The technique is for a slide-in note. One will approach a slide-in note with the slide out, then jab it in quickly.

Reverse jabs


The technique is for a slide-out note. One will approach a slide-out note with the slide in, then release it in quickly.

Bend grace notes


use bending to bend the note half-step lower briefly, before playing.


  • Start with a chord right next to the actual hole, then quickly go to the actual hole and block out the rest with a tongue slap.

Tremolo vs Vibrato


Just like guitar's misnamings, Tremolo and vibrato on a harmonica are also misnamed. So let's set it straight, as per music theory:

  • A vibrato is a fluctuation of pitch, usually accompanied with synchronous fluctuations of loudness and timbre, of such extent and rate as to give a pleasing flexibility, tenderness, and richness to the tone.
  • A tremolo is a rapid fluctuation of intensity (loudness and sound pressure) without changing the pitch.

While all kind of musics use ornaments, remember, play it only when it is musically appropriate. Sometimes, it's best not to do any ornamentation, especially if it's not how one would play in this style (e.g.: Canon in D played in classical style is very different from playing in blues style)



Hand/Finger Tremolo


A hand/finger tremolo is achieved by rapidly opening and closing the cupped hands around the harmonica to adjust volume.





Shake is also known as warble. A warble is when you rapidly alternate between two notes in neighboring holes. Don't confuse warbles with trills as trills have a dissonant, clashing sound due to the combinations of notes. Warbles sound smooth and harmonious.

In warbles, the note on the left is usually the main note while the note on the right is added. You can either use pucker or tongue-block embouchure when playing warbles. To play a warble, select two holes to alternate between, and then play the note on the left and then the right. Continue to alternate between the two notes. Play warbles on a sustained breath. The resulting sound is a rhythmic texture.

Warbles can be achieved using the following four techniques:

    • Jaw flick: Flick your lower jaw from side to side.
    • Tongue flick: Select two holes with your lips and flick the tip of your tongue from side to side.
    • Head shake: Hold the harmonica steady and shake your head from side to side.
    • Hand warble: Hold your head steady and move the harmonica from side to side with your hands.

Slide Shake ("Trill")


What traditionally called as a trill on a chromatic is not a trill. As it involves moving the slide in and out rapidly, it is more appropriately a type of vibrato.

Flutter tongue


A motor-like sound generated by vibrating the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, just behind (but not against) the teeth. Emulate this movement with the rolled R as in the Spanish word "rapido" (pronounced rrrrapido)

Tongue vibrato


You make vibrations inside your mouth with your tongue (depends, back and forth, up and down, or some mixed motion) as if you were trying to bend the note using the tongue motion.

In simple words you just move your tongue back and forth very fast as if trying to whistle exhaling and inhaling the air. Don't use your throat or lungs for breathing for a while, just use the amount of air in your cheeks. Move the tongue really fast. In this case the trajectory of the air stream is not straight and pressure on the reed is somewhat mixed causing some kind of turbulence.

This effect is very impressive when used on a bent note with at least half of the tone room above and below. The best use of it in my opinion is by getting the deepest bent note, say, 2 draw 2-step bend and then do what was described above by adding some air pressure.

In fine, when you vibrate your tongue the note fluctuates from the 2-step deep bend to almost pure 2 draw - with larger increment of time devoted to the 2-step deep bent note and smaller increment of time devoted to the unbent note or I would say to transition from 2-step bend to unbent note and back. That is, you are to hear the bent note almost constantly with transitory vibrato effect along the possible bending range. All this happens during the tongue vibration.

Throat Vibrato


Throat vibrato is one of the most important harmonica techniques to master. It adds color and variety to your notes in the same way that it does for a singer, and it is intimately associated with good tone. There are several different ways of achieving various vibratos on the harp, including diaphragm vibrato, hand vibrato, and throat vibrato. Diaphragm vibrato and throat vibrato are closely related, while hand vibrato is achieved by opening and closing the hands to vary the air seal cup at the back of the harp.

Diaphragm vibrato primarily makes use of the diaphragm for altering the amount of air flowing through the harp, which provides a rhythmic pulsing of volume from softer to louder to softer. Throat vibrato may be the most emotional of the vibratos by making use of pitch changes as well as volume changes.

The key to throat vibrato is a smooth oscillation of both pitch and volume. Done poorly it sounds chunky, and not smooth. Done well it sounds smooth and natural and wonderful. Strive for a sine-wave type continuous smoothness, with consistent pitch and volume changes. Rhythm is an important part of the vibrato. You can do vibrato at different speeds, so you choose a speed that fits with the rhythm and feel of the music. The pulses of the vibrato should be made to divide the notes into even intervals to add to the rhythmic content of the music.

The classic way to get throat vibrato is to imitate a rapid fire machine gun (eh eh eh eh eh), like when you were a kid. Then do it inhaling instead of exhaling. It's the same throat motion that gets the throat vibrato. Work on it until all the chunkiness is gone, and it sounds as natural in your play as it does in a singer's voice.

A good way to get the feel is to put vibrato on the 3 draw 1/2 step (or even less) bend. Your throat is involved getting the bend initially, so there's some feel there before you go for the vibrato. Breathing from the diaphragm will help control the vibrato. There's always an interaction between the throat and diaphragm when doing a vibrato, since each is involved in controlling the air stream. For throat vibrato, obviously the emphasis is on the throat--but you'll probably notice some involvement of the diaphragm as well.

Try it amplified, but play softly. Practice very soft draw bends. At some point you'll notice what feels like a direct connection between your throat and the note. Every little nuance of throat motion is reflected in the sound. Work on playing the 3 draw 1/2 step bend softly. Then put some vibrato on the note by pulsing the air stream with your throat. The pitch will change up and down because you've got a hold of the bend with your throat. Keep at it, it's worth it!

Combo vibrato


This is a combo of diaphragm, tongue and jaw technique while bending the note. The diaphragm is working a quick vibrato, while the tongue/jaw are doing a pumping action to enhance and speed up the vibrato even more. Also, bend the note as you do this.

Split intervals


Unlike other wind instruments, a harmonica can play numerous notes at once. Aside from intervals made up of adjacent notes, a player can play separate holes by blocking the holes in the middle, and sound the two outermost notes. The split octave (below) is an example of this.

While the principle is simple, in practice, this can be difficult. Many people, have difficulty releasing airflow on both sides of a tongue block. Furthermore, for some intervals it may be difficult to stretch ones mouth wide enough. If one wishes to sound two notes which are separated by two holes this can be easily learned by first sounding all four holes (as in a chord) and then touching the tip of the tongue to the post separating the two innermost holes. For example playing blow holes 3, 4, 5 and 6, and then touching the tongue to the center post which separates holes 4 and 5, produces a split octave of C1 (3 blow) and C2 (6 blow).







If a player stretches the mouth wide enough, and blocks out a certain number of holes in the middle such that only two notes that are octave apart (e.g.: C1 and C2) will sound, they will form a octave.

For chromatic, that means stretching out across four holes and then block out the 2 holed in the middle with your tongue.
For diatonic, stretch out across four holes and then block out the 2 holes in the middle. Note you can only form a true octave on the blow, and just a few draw notes.

Slide bump


As player play a slide-out note, immediately bump the slide in and let it out quickly, which let it rise up a bit.

Slide dip


As player play a slide-in note, immediately let it out and press it back in quickly, which let it lower down for a short while.