Playing Tips · Study Tools

My 2 Draw is Broken! (No, it isn’t)

I’m fortunate that I get to help people take their first steps on the harmonica. For some folks this has been a lifelong ambition, and I love sharing people’s enthusiasm and helping them overcome the challenges.

There are a few things that regularly catch people out right at the start. The harmonica is a very deceptive instrument. It looks simple. In fact it is simple to get a sound out of. What’s not simple, or at least what takes a bit of work, is getting a good sound. And the 2 draw note is one that folk really seem to battle with.

Commonly new players find that their 2 draw sounds weak, whiney, airy or not at all, leading many to believe they’ve got a dud harmonica. If that sounds like you, don’t panic, and don’t get discouraged. I’m 99% certain your 2 draw is fine.

The cause of and solution to the problem is your tongue. The tongue is quite an astonishing muscle, and it’s the root of a lot of good and evil on your harmonica.

It’s important to understand that when you play harmonica the inside of your mouth is acting as a resonant chamber, much like the hollow body of an acoustic guitar. You can change the tone you produce on the instrument by changing the size and shape of your mouth. You can hear this in action by drawing or blowing a chord on holes 1, 2 and 3 and saying vowel sounds like eeh, ahh, ooh, uh and so on. You don’t actually have to say the words of course, just move your mouth in and out of position as you blow and draw.

Our default mouth shape for blues playing is wide open, relaxed, and with an airtight seal between your lips and the cover plates. This gives us the fullest and most resonant sound which is what we’re after most of the time. Your 2 draw reed is very picky about how it likes to be played. If yours sounds bad the chances are that your tongue is high up at the back of your mouth and you need to get that sucker out of the way.

Here’s the lesson: Your tongue should be low at the back of your mouth.

It’s as simple as that. You have a lot more conscious control of your tongue than you may realise. It might take a little experimentation but it will solve the problem. If you can bare to peer inside your own mouth use a mirror to see how it looks, and remember how it feels, when your tongue moves into different positions.

I hope that’s been helpful. It all comes down to experimentation, and practice. Not very sexy I know but all the hours spent on fundamentals like this pay off big time down the line.