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Harmonica Lessons: Meet the Harmonica

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Hi, I'm Howard Levy,
and welcome to my world of harmonicas.
Lots of harmonicas in the harmonica world.
I'm gonna concentrate on this one
type of harmonica that is probably
the most common and widespread.
It's called a Richter-tuned
diatonic harmonica.
And for the purposes of teaching,
I'm gonna be using the Richter-tuned
diatonic harmonica in the key of C.
This particular one that I'm
playing is customized for me.
It's made up of several
different harmonicas.
It is basically a Hohner Marine Band.
But the cover is a cover plate
from what's called the Special 20.
I just wanted to let you know what
the instrument is that I'm playing.
Okay, the Honer harmonica,
the ten holed diatonic harmonica,
as you can see, it has ten holes and
they very conveniently put
numbers above each one and
if you focus in really close
you can see those numbers.
The funny thing about the numbers
is that as soon as you
put the harmonica in your mouth,
can't see them anymore.
So, it's kind of humorous, I think,
as many things about the harmonica are as
we keep going through these lessons.
So, it's a wind instrument.
It uses the breath.
Except it uses the breath
in both directions.
It's the only wind
instrument that does so.
So, if you wanna just breathe through the
harmonica, just put it up to your lips.
[SOUND] You can blow on it, exhale.
You can inhale on it.
[SOUND] In the harmonica world
all these blow and draw.
Those are the two words that I'm gonna
use to describe what I am doing.
I'm blowing, I'm drawing.
You can blow and draw towards.
That's when you play three or
four notes at a time depending on how wide
your mouth is you can play five notes.
Six notes
seven notes, either blowing or drawing.
you can play some pretty
big chords on this.
It's the only mouth blown wind instrument
that's capable of playing chords.
All the other one's like flute, saxophone,
you have to play one note at a time.
So how you play one note
at a time on a harmonica?
This is the question.
What, there's two methods for
playing one note at a time.
One is called the pucker.
And you form your lips into
a pucker shape like this.
It's kind of exaggerated.
As most things, when you're
first learning how to do things,
you might have to get into
a slightly unnatural position.
But you pucker, and
then you put your lips over the hole.
And we'll try it on the first hole.
And when you do pucker, don't be shy
about putting your lips on the harmonica.
And don't look at the harmonica, either.
That's one of the other main that this instrument
is totally invisible to the guy who's
playing it, or the woman who's playing it.
And if you try to look at it and
go okay, I'm gonna aim for
the first hole, as soon as you get
to the first hole you can't see it.
So, what I'm trying to get you to
do is to have an act of faith here.
Okay, I think the first hole
is somewhere over here.
And you try just to put
the harmonica to your mouth,
doesn't matter how you hold it yet, and,
[SOUND], and you know,
maybe you won't hit one note.
Maybe you'll hit two notes [SOUND].
Maybe you'll hit three notes if
you're not puckered enough [SOUND].
Keep blowing and
try to narrow your mouth down as you blow
because your breath on
the harmonica is your eyesight.
As long as you keep the air
going through the harmonica, you
can get your bearings on the instrument
And you can zero in on the note that way.
As soon as you stop breathing
and sort of hunt and peck around,
then you can really get lost because
remember, you can't see what you're doing.
And one more little reminder,
don't look down your nose at
the harmonica while you're doing it.
Just try to resist that urge.
I know it's very hard to not look because
every other instrument that anyone has
ever played, they tell you to look at it.
And your teacher will say,
move your hand here.
Look at this, look at that,
see what you're doing.
I'm telling you the exact opposite,
don't look.
[LAUGH] So a lot of this has to do,
like I said, with exaggeration.
So make a real exaggerated pucker.
[SOUND] And then once you get
that single note, what you can do
is try to slide that pucker over to
different holes of the harmonica.
I'm blowing here.
And if the pucker is the wrong size, it
will be too big and you'll get two notes.
That's not a bad sound, but for
right now we're trying to get one.