Harmonica Guide & Tabs Online



Good vibrato is difficult to achieve initially, but vital in bringing a mature quality to your playing. There are three identified forms of vibrato; hand, diaphragm and throat. Of these throat vibrato is by far the most widely used and, I think, the most impressive form.

Diaphragm Vibrato

Not to be confused with throat vibrato, even if the end product is very similar, though often weaker. Diaphragm vibrato comes from the rapid tension and relaxation of the diaphragm muscles. I have never knowingly seen anyone use this technique, although I understand that Charlie Musselwhite is an exponent. If I was a sceptic, I’d say don’t bother with diaphragm vibrato – you won’t be missing anything.

Hand Vibrato

This involves nudging the harmonica back and forth (towards and away from the chops) without breaking the contact between your lips and the harp. It can be done rapidly, or more slowly to add texture to a quiet piece. Again this is not a widely used technique and sits, in my humble opinion, on the naff side of the tracks. Again you’re not missing much. First hand I have only ever seen Johnny Mars use this technique – to good effect I hasten to add!

Throat Vibrato

This is where it’s really at. It’s the standard vibrato every player should master. I remember when I started out, blow bends and throat vibrato were the two greatest mysteries in harp playing. Set your barrow down and get stuck in. If I can get there, so can you.

Throat vibrato is a controlled staccato effect. It is related to bending (especially on draw notes) and to the glottal stop, because much of the control is achieved from the back of the throat.

Try repeating the letter ‘h’ or ‘uh’ when playing a blow or draw note. It’s somewhat easier on the draw notes because you can use the tension of the pre-bent reed as your counterpoint. It will take a while, but if you can hear yourself gasping at the back of your throat when you start the draw notes, you’re on the right track. Blow notes are a lot easier but not as much fun!

It will be hard at first. But think opera singer, relax and persevere. Once you get it you can really milk it. In its extreme form it can be combined with draw bending to ‘choke’ the harmonica. Sonny Boy Williamson II was a great exponent of this technique.

For an extended explanation and coaching in throat vibrato contact me direct.

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