Jerry Portnoy

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Bending Notes on the Harmonica is one of the most difficult techniques to master .. yet is the most satisfying and important technique .. especially for playing the blues.

The important thing in learning how to bend is to keep a “grip” on the air stream as you make your vowel changes.  When you feel or hear the break or shape change in the note as you make the vowel change, but the note doesn’t change pitch, you haven’t got a grip on the air stream producing the note.  The trick is to get hold of it and keep it as your tongue pulls slightly back and down with the vowel change.

Some of you will get this fairly easily; others will encounter initial, and sometimes protracted, frustration.  DO NOT GIVE UP!  You WILL be able to do this.  Maybe not the first time, but it WILL happen .. and when it does .. you will wonder what was so hard about it in the first place.

Once you get the sense of how to bend, work on each hole to get control.  Each hole on the harmonica has a slightly different feel, in that the pressure requirements to get the most out of each note and to control the pitch and tone are different.

Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:

Print Print Chords & Tab

Practice 1


Practice 2


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Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Oct 05, 2016

Hi Davide,

Getting good bends is not a matter of force but rather the correct positioning of the tongue combined with the way you draw the air. You're on the right track. Keep experimenting. Make sure you have a good seal and don't waste air. Keep a grip on the note and try to force it lower by changing the vowel sound as I demonstrate. If the note breaks or cracks while you're trying to bend it - that's the point at which you have to keep your grip on the note.

Davide Oct 01, 2016

Hi Jerry,

I'm following your classes, I like them a lot. bending is improving, but i have many questions, especially on the third hole bent notes:

- I barely manage to play 1 out 3 bent notes....

- I breathe in when i play it in a very strong way... i think I'm not doing it in the right way, also because i don't manage to play the other 2 notes at all. can you help me please at improving? what should I do? if you listen, there's too much air in the sound I think. I almost squeeze my lips on the harp in order to play it... How to make it happened?


Davide (from Italy)

Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Aug 16, 2016

Hi Andrew,

Yes, sometimes a reed can go flat. It could be metal fatigue in that particular reed. You could remove the bottom cover plate and, with a file or knife, try to shave a tiny bit of metal off the free end of the reed in order to bring it back up to pitch. With the cost of harmonicas these days, it's a real drag if they fail or go out of tune so quickly. Good luck!

Andrew Hooker
Andrew Hooker Aug 15, 2016

Hey Jerry,


Thanks for the fast reply, and for clarifying the 4 and 5 draw bends. I have anotther question.... Is it possible to pull the 5 draw out of tune, by drawing too hard? The pitch on the 5 hole draw has dropped flat in pitch, and I can no longer play a clean 5 draw note in tune. I know it's out of tune, and not a sign of bad technique. I can easily play a diaontic major scale up and down the harp. The harp is a Hohner Marine Band, key of A, and it's only a couple of weeks old.

Andrew Hooker
Andrew Hooker Aug 14, 2016

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for this incredible lesson tutorial. I am a beginner. I have a pretty good handle on 1, 2,3, and 6 bends. For some reason, I am having such a tough time with the 4 and 5 hole bend. I can only bend the 4 hole a half step, and the 5 bend simply isn't working yet. Any other pointers you might recommed for getting results?

Thank you for your time


Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Aug 14, 2016

Hi Andrew,

You're doing just fine. The 4 hole only bends a half step and the 5 hole doesn't really have a true bend - just maybe a quarter step.

Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Mar 07, 2014

Hey John,

Glad you're starting to get it. Keep at it - just 5 minutes at a time several times a day will really help. 

Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Nov 17, 2012

Hi everyone,

Glad you guys are making progress. Practice regularly and when you can get the correct pitch changes, be sure to do the exercises I demonstrate that help you go between the bent notes and the regular notes in the adjacent holes.

john Mar 07, 2014

this is a frist for me  i have played be fore but could not get   it right

Dave Pyper
Dave Pyper Jun 15, 2012

Brilliant, I can bend a note but this lesson shows me how to control them. this lesson made me smile so much. Cheers Jerry

Jerry Portnoy
Jerry Portnoy Apr 26, 2012

Hi guys,

The satisfaction you'll feel when you finally get this will be more than worth the effort. Make sure you have a good "seal" and that you're playing a clear single note to start. Then, keeping hold of the airstream, begin to change the vowel sound. If the note cracks or breaks when you do it - that's the point at which the bend should start - and actually shows you're on the right track. Keep trying to hold the note without it breaking as you slowly change the vowel sound.

Phil Stefanini
Phil Stefanini Apr 23, 2012

Jerry, this is the best lesson I've had.  Thank you for sharing what you know.  You've given me a way to practice and the sounds to listen for.  It is priceless and being able to follow along is fun and rewarding.  You are also very patient and clear in your lessons, which I is greatly appreciate as a beginner.  THANK YOU!!!  Phil

daddyray (robbie)
daddyray (robbie) Apr 19, 2012

another great one......clearest explaination I have encountered about bending and what notes are lurking within the low draws

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