Originally posted Nov 2013
This blog post is adapted from an email exchange with Tony, a reader who U-blocks but would like to get better at the pucker technique, because it frees the tongue for playing articulations and bending.
If you haven’t heard of it before, U-blocking is a single-note embouchure that isolates a hole by rolling the sides of the tongue up into a U. The lips rest on the coverplates, and the rolled-up tongue touches the harp and is moved side to side as you play. It’s a technique that has the advantage of reducing head and hand movement. Some players also find that U-blocking helps them with blow bends, especially on hole 10.
I feel the pucker has a distinct advantage for bending notes, because the tongue is free to adjust its position. Yes, you can bend when U-blocking or using traditional tongue-blocking, but the tongue has to adjust its shape while remaining in contact with the harp. Also, with the pucker, you don’t have to adjust your embouchure for playing articulations – you just say “Ta Ta” or “TikKa Tikka” and carry on playing, because your tongue is free. I’ll note that tongue blockers can make the same argument for seamlessly adding octaves, tongue slaps and chords, but I’m extolling the virtues of the pucker right now, so let’s stay on task…
Adjusting to a New Embouchure
If you’re a U-blocker and want to learn the pucker technique, I’d recommend practicing really simple exercises and songs mindfully – take it slow, notice when you start to U-block, and reset to the pucker. It might take a little time, but just be patient. The major scale from 4-7 is a good place to start.
4 -4 5 -5 6 -6 -7 7
7 -7 -6 6 -5 5 -4 4
This advice is the same for any new embouchure, by the way, whether you’re a U-blocker learning to pucker, or a pucker player learning to tongue-block.
Single notes are the key. If you practice playing clean single notes consistently using U-Blocking, Pucker, or Tongue Blocking, you’ll have more success bending, regardless of your embouchure.
Have patience, and take your time! You’ll get there.