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What are some good breathing practices for playing the harmonica? I have been learning the harmonica for a while now, I can play small time rhymes and some songs.

But when I try to get into high intensity mode or try to play continuous blows or draws. Or even when I try to play continuously for a long time, I run out of gas. Also during that time my notes get all messed up, I start drawing and blowing randomly(probably gasping for breath) and loose all my concentration and have to try again.

Due to this I never end up completing a song completely. Are there any good breathing practices to overcome this?

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4 Answers 4

I would recommend to practice the breathing as it is done with some of the woodwinds and brass. Here are some basic guidelines:

  1. Don't try to play a song as the first thing when you get your hands on the harmonica.
  2. Learn how to breathe with the diaphragm. Many of us don't really know that this is the best way to breathe, regardless of the goal.
  3. Play lots and lots of long notes. Before starting to play any song, play long notes. This will strengthen your body's "air column".
  4. In the songs you are playing and/or trying to learn, make sure to mark some "checkpoints" to breathe and change them according to your current endurance. Then, try to do it again but with a little more time between the breathing spots. This way, you can improve your endurance while playing, since you would try to follow this breathing check points.
  5. Try to do distinguish between phrases as you do when sing.
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There are no secrets. Try playing the same song many times looking where you can breathe. After long pratice, you will automatically find where you can breathe.

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A bit of trivia from me:

Besides what has been already mentioned, there's this technique called circular breathing. Once learned, it basically allows you to blow constantly for a long period of time.

It's by no means essential for harmonica players, but I believe that it might be useful sometimes, and in fact practicing it (even when not playing) is a nice breathing exercise by itself!

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There's more to using the diaphragm than just pushing with your abdomenal muscles and ignoring your chest and shoulders. Often this is over-stressed when introducing breathing awareness to new students.

One useful thing to do once or twice at the start of practice is a Full-Yogi breath.

  • Start breathing-in normally, pushing the abdomen out.

  • Then firm-up the diaphragm and pull the abdomen in to stretch the chest, shoulders and back, inflating the upper parts of the lungs.

  • Then firm-up the ribs and shoulders and push the abdomen out again.

  • Then release, breathe-out. And breathe normally.

This gives you the deepest possible breath, like a stretch. But don't over-do it; it can lead to hyper-oxygenation and make you loopy. Doing it just once or twice will help open-up the lungs and make your normal breathing more productive for a time.

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