How to Bend Blow Notes Down in the Harmonica’s High Register

By Winslow Yerxa

Holes 7, 8, 9, and 10 make up the high range of the harmonica. In each of these holes, the highest note is the blow note. So, in these holes, the blow notes are the ones that bend. The blow note in Hole 7 gives a microtonal bend, while Blow 8 and Blow 9 each bend one semitone.

Blow 10 bends two full semitones, but it’s at the high extreme. At first you may be able to find the full two-semitone bend but not the one-semitone bend. Don’t worry, though. Most of the licks you find here are written for the full bend.

When bending the highest notes, the basic technique is the same as for the lower notes. However, be aware of one important difference: To tune your oral cavity to these higher notes, you need a smaller chamber and therefore need to move your K-spot farther forward in your mouth.

If you hear a momentary “thrum” in the note when you try to bend it, you’re hearing your tongue rushing past the sweet spot. In other words, you went by too fast and missed the spot where you activate the bend. The difference between being on the sweet spot and missing it is really tiny, so take it slow.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Hole 8 is probably the easiest for your first high blow bend.

  • High bends are easier to learn on a harp in a low key, such as G, Low F, Low E, or Low D.

  • If you’re reading the music notation above the tab, all the examples for the high-range bends are written an octave lower than they sound.

Bending the high notes with a free tongue

When you play the high bends with a pucker, you need to locate your K-spot farther forward than for the middle register bends.

To find a good spot, try this:

  1. Sing the “ooh” sound with your tongue raised where you found the K-spot that you located to play your first bends.

  2. Continue to sing the sound and slide your tongue forward until the “ooh” sound changes to something that isn’t “ooh” anymore but hasn’t yet morphed all the way into “eee.”

    Take notice of where your tongue is along the roof of your mouth.

    Don’t change the shape of your lips; they should be formed into a round “ooh” shape the whole time.

  3. Tighten up the space between the roof of your mouth and your tongue to form a new K-spot.

    If you’re still singing the note, it’ll start to sound almost like a half-formed “ghh.” If you’re exhaling without using your voice, you’ll hear the sound of the rushing air get louder.

  4. Notice that when you form a K-spot while exhaling, you feel pressure trying to push your tongue lower.

    This tells you that the bend activator is engaged.

  5. Now pick up your harmonica and try to get Blow 8 to bend down using the first four steps in this list (you can also try Blow 7 or Blow 9).

    When you try to bend Blow 8 after singing the “ooh” sound and sliding it toward “eee,” you may notice something strange: The “ooh” and “eee” sounds change places when you play them on the harmonica. The unbent harmonica note sounds like “eee” and the bent note sounds like “ooh.”

After you find the bend on a blow note, you may notice pressure pushing against the front of your tongue, as if the air in the front of your mouth is a ball made of spongy rubber that resists pressure but squeezes into a smaller shape if you press against it. You can work that pressure — push forward against it or retreat from it.

Bending the high blow notes with a tongue block

For tongue blocking, form a K-spot with a pucker. Then pay special attention to the area near the front of your tongue. This area consists of a series of important points that are one behind the other:

  • The tip of your tongue is pointed down and is touching the harp.

  • Behind the area that touches the harp is an area that you can press forward against the roof of your mouth and the backs of your upper teeth. Play around with pressing in this area.

  • Just behind that area, you should feel some air pressure as you breathe. It may feel like a little air pocket caught between your K-spot and the area pressed against the roof of your mouth. Squeeze the air pocket from the front and the back to find the bend.

Make sure your tongue doesn’t block the edge of the hole you’re playing so that you don’t interfere with the airflow from your mouth to the harp.

The following bending licks on the harmonica can help you master bending in the high range:

  • Yellow Bird lick: This lick starts with an unbent blow note. Bend the note down, hold it for a moment, and then release it back to an unbent note. Think “Eee-Ooh-Eee.”

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  • Bendus Interruptus lick: This lick goes down to the bent note and stops there. Hold the bend and then stop your breath while holding your mouth in the bend position. Finally, start breathing again so that you begin with a bent note. Think “Eee-Ooh! Ooh-Eee.”

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  • Close Your Eyes lick: This lick goes from unbent to bent, and then it shifts one hole to the left for an unbent blow note. It ends by retracing its steps. Think “Eee-Ooh-Eee-Ooh-Eee.”

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  • Shark Fin lick: This lick goes from blow to bent draw and then back to blow. Don’t let the unbent note creep in between the bent blow note and the draw note. Think “Hee-Ooh-Hee.”

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