Tongue Articulations

tongue_articulations-300x225A reader asks, “Do harmonica players use their tongues?”

Yes! Here are a few uses of tongue articulations:

– punching certain notes harder
– articulating repeated notes
– drumming out chord rhythms

TA and KA

You have two main options for articulating notes with your tongue.

Say TA with front of tongue
Say KA with middle/back of tongue

These articulations happen INSIDE the mouth, behind the teeth, without touching the harp.

Legato vs. Staccato

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to use your tongue to articulate every note you play. Most of the time, I try to play in a smooth, flowing “legato” style: with no special articulation, just sliding sideways to the next note or changing breath direction. Tongue articulation adds a clipped, percussive, “staccato” effect. I use it a lot for chordal rhythm work, and occasionally for a rhythmic effect on single notes.

Tongue for Clear Single Notes?

Another tongue technique is “tongue blocking,” where you use the tongue to block out 2-3 holes on the left while you play out of the right corner of your mouth. That’s a whole other discussion, but TB is another super common tongue technique.

In my own playing, I tend to isolate notes by putting the harp deep in my mouth and using the inside of my pucker to zero in on the hole.


Saying TA TA TA TA or TAKA TAKA TAKA is an easy way to play complex, percussive rhythms. Tongue articulations also seem to help when you need to land directly on a bent note on 2 or 3 draw. Practice playing legato, without articulations, and staccato, with articulations.