Tongue Blocking vs Puckering

From time to time I see the tongue blocking vs puckering debate flare up. Ever since I first heard of tongue blocking I understood that it is a topic with a lot of feelings involved. In this article I will outline how I have developed my own technique over the years in realtion to this.

My beginning

I was 14 years old when I got my first harmonica, a Hohner Pro Harp. With it there was a little piece of paper with short instructions. The instructions were for tongue blocking. It seemed like a very strange way to play, I tried it briefly but could not make any sense of it. Instead I started playing puckering. Ay this time it was very hard to get hold of any instructional material at all. However I did find a booklet about how to play blues harmonica. In the first chapter there was a passage that was something like this:

With your harmonica you receive a small piece of paper that tells you to play tongue blocking, throw it away! Tongue blocking is impossible and nobody plays that way

This suited me perfectly as I now had “proof” that I was doing the right thing. This was the only way I knew until 2005.

My introduction to the tongue blocking vs puckering debate

When I started playing with a group of harmonica players in Malmö under the guidance of Dick Sjöberg in 2005 i heard terms like “tongue slap” and “octave split” for the first time. When the others explained what they were doing I started understanding why I couldn’t replicate a lot of the sounds I was hearing on older recordings. It wasn’t special ahrmonicas or special microphones, it was technique!

This was a big revelation for me, I understood that I at least had to give tongue blocking a chance. Unfortunately it turned out to be much harder than I expected. All the years as a pucker player had cemented my technique.

The next step

In 2007 I attended the Harmonica Masters Workshops in Trossingen for the first time. This event was a big eye opener for me and gave me lots of inspiration. I took Steve Baker’s class and part of what we were learning involved tongue blocking and vamping. This was the booster I needed to really dedicate myself to learn to tongue blocking.

During tthe event I also discovered that the tongue blocking vs puckering discussion was sometimes heated.

Where I am now

Today I am very happy that I took the time to learn tongue blocking. Much of what I play today is really dependent on that embouchure. I do play puckering from time to time, especially things I learned pre 2007.

When I teach I teach beginners tongue blocking, when I teach people who already have some repetoire and is playing puckering we decide together if tongue blocking is worth the effort or not. I believe you need to consider what sound you are after when choosing your path.

My recommendations

I strongly believe that tongue blocking is the best embouchure for me and what I want to do. I also believe it is the best embouchure to teach beginners, it will gice the most options long term. That said I also generally stay out of the tongue blocking vs puckering debate. Even you are unsure of where you stand I would recemmend you to try it.

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