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When playing the harmonica for more than a few minutes, I'll often run into the problem where I produce way too much saliva, which all ends up inside the harmonica itself. Sometimes this even clogs one or more notes completely.

Most often, this happens when I sustain one note for a long time, blowing out. There's no possibility to swallow (because that will interrupt the note), so I don't know what I can do to keep this from happening. Is there some sort of technique that keeps your mouth from producing (so much) saliva while breathing out?

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4 Answers 4

On any wind instrument spit is a fact of life. You will notice that larger wind instruments have a spit valve, and regularly empty it (sometimes on your shoes!) There really isn't a good way to keep your body from making more spit, and you want to shape your embouchure for good sound rather than worrying about spit related concerns.

Instead, strategize for removing the spit at the correct moment. You can do this by blowing hard through the harmonica, or tapping it against your leg.

Some people think that beginners drool more, and that you may drool less as you get better at harp. I can't guarantee that this will happen for you.

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The valve is more for removing condensation from your breath out of the instrument than spit removal. – Tim Jun 24 '14 at 7:51
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I have done some more research on this, and found this forum post to be very useful. It explains some very basic and logical ways to make sure you produce less saliva.

In a nutshell:

  • Try to play with the harmonica tilted slightly upwards. This way, the saliva does not flow into the harmonica as easily.
  • Try not to touch the harmonica with the tongue. Apparently, we naturally produce more saliva when our tongue comes in contact with the harmonica.
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You can't avoid playing with the tongue, especially if you need to split notes. It's also goofy to spend the whole time looking up. Do not attempt blowing out to clear spit; That just makes it worse.

Here's what to do:

If you must do some intense extended blowing, those are times you need to be looking up.

Otherwise, as part of your routine, be aware of when you'll be doing draws, and do them while looking up. When possible work strong draws into your song. Abrupt and strong impulses clear spit better than slow soft draws.

I simply add a strong quick draw arpeggio along the whole harmonica between verses while looking up. There are some blow notes too, but the important part is the stronger rapid draws.

In general, draw stronger than you blow, and look up more when drawing notes. Sure, it affects your style, but so does suddenly not being able to play at all because a reed is clogged.

Harmonicas can be played in a few positions/styles like cross-harp which emphasize different notes. Choose a combo of harmonica key and song which emphasizes the draw notes.

Harmonicas can really force some improv skills, partly because notes are missing and those few which are there are conventionally wrong unless you learn how to work them in, but also because sometimes you suddenly have to work in abrupt draw notes to clear the instrument, and need matching bridge/arpeggio tactics to work those notes back into the piece as well.

Spit can be your friend though. Unless you use some surgical or sex lubricant, you're better off leaving the instrument shell wet if you'll be doing some 40 minute wailing solo, otherwise you'll find the skin peeling off your cracked lips later.

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I play the recorder and find it far worse if I eat anything. I have to stick to just water - even the acid in wine causes me problems, which is bad if you need a bit of Dutch courage to play to an audience..... I'm going to drown or choke one day........Avoid biscuits and chocolate like the plague - they look vile dripping out of the bottom of the instrument. Mandy

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