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Harmonica Lesson: An Introduction to Bending


One of the most expressive qualities of the human voice as a musical instrument is its ability to bend notes and glide seamlessly from one pitch to the next. Note bending is a technique that singers employ frequently, and it’s often mimicked as accurately as possible by a variety of different musical instruments. One instrument, in particular, through which you can bend notes and capture this expressive vocal texture is the harmonica.


In this online harmonica lesson, Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, co-founder of Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, and ArtistWorks harmonica instructor, Howard Levy, teaches the basics of note bending on the harmonica. He outlines what note bending is, describes how the construction of the harmonica allows for note bending and illustrates how to execute the technique and incorporate note bending into your own playing.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play harmonica from a master musician like Howard Levy? Try some free online harmonica lessons now!


You may be wondering—“what is note bending?” Note bending is a controlled technique that musicians utilize to smoothly transition a musical note from one pitch to another. With unfretted stringed or other continuous-pitch instruments such as the trombone or human voice, this type of variation in pitch is often described as note intonation.


Bent notes, however, are commonly played on fretted instruments by literally bending the string with excess finger pressure to raise a note seamlessly in pitch. On brass instruments, such as the trumpet, notes can be bent by adjusting the lip shape within the mouthpiece. On free-reed instruments, such as the harmonica, players are able to bend notes by altering their tongue, throat, and lip positions and using excess air pressure to overblow the reed.


“Students that I teach are always chomping at the bit to learn how to bend notes on the harmonica,” Howard explains. “The expressive nature of bending is part of what draws people to play the harmonica in the first place. It really plays into the bluesiness of it all.”


There are a few physical elements that are all at play when you’re attempting to bend a note on the harmonica—tongue placement, lip position, air pressure, and throat shape. The relationship between these four facets of your playing will all determine the clarity and efficacy of each note you attempt to bend. Masters this process can be frustrating when you’re first learning, but, we promise, your patience will pay off and you’ll be playing bluesy bends in no time!


“Learning to bend notes cleanly and quickly has a lot to do with building muscle memory,” Howard explains. “As you continue to work on your bending, you’ll begin to learn the positions in which you need to hold your mouth and throat, the amount of air you’ll need to produce, and the way you hold your lips to the instrument. It will all become second nature.”


To learn more about bending notes on the harmonica and how to implement this technique into your playing, dive into this online harmonica lesson from Howard Levy:


An Introduction to Bending with Howard Levy:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play the harmonica? Through our comprehensive harmonica lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Howard Levy, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Howard’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner harmonica to advanced performance techniques, classic popular tunes, improvisation, music theory, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as harmonica players and musicians.


Try out some free sample music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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