Harmonicas and COPD

We’re constantly encouraged to exercise despite the fact that we have difficulty doing so - with oxygen and without.

And sometimes it’s doubly discouraging because, as we all know at this point, our lungs are not going to get any better.


I don’t think any of us wants them to get any worse, and that’s the point of exercise.


We are presented with a multitude of breathing exercises - deep breathing, pursed lip breathing, coordinated breathing, diaphragmatic breathing - just for a few examples.

We are also encouraged to take advantage of pulmonary rehabilitation if it’s available to us.

I consider myself lucky because the rehab facility I attend will let you “join” as if it were a gym when your prescription period runs out. I pay $30.00 a month out of pocket for 2 sessions a week.

I believe myself to be fortunate for that.

But truth be told - I’m also bored! I never liked gyms. Didn’t like the feel, didn’t like the effort needed to do well and didn’t like the smell!

And while I spend as much time as I can on treadmills and stationary bicycles, I find them boring and, sometimes, I use that as an internal excuse not to go.

But there are alternatives or rather supplements that are quite beneficial - and Fun! Although maybe not for others who are within earshot.

Let me explain.

Last year, I read somewhere about the benefits to someone like me with COPD of finding and using the necessary breath to play a wind instrument - “a musical instrument in which sound is produced by the vibration of air, typically by the player blowing into the instrument.”

For us, “blowing into the instrument is the key phrase.”

Trumpet, tuba, sax, and trombone were given as examples. But then, way at the end of the article, in almost negligible print was - “harmonica!”

The harmonica?

I knew I was never going to have the patience to dedicate the time necessary to learn the trumpet, for example, but harmonica? I used to play in a rock & roll band in high school (100 years ago) and I played a little harmonica (very little and not very well).

At first, being Irish, I was thinking about the bagpipes - you need to continually blow into the “chanter.” But - I love my wife and my neighbors too much.

But the suggestion of a harmonica made much more sense to me.

It’s relatively inexpensive (The Guitar Center web site has something called a “Hohner Kids Clearly Colorful Harmonica Blue.” It’s about $5 bucks and for beginners, it’s perfectly fine).

It’s something you can carry around with you in your pocket, purse or knapsack.

It’s a lot quieter than a tuba!

The benefits of learning harmonica for COPD

In a recent article, I read about the benefits to COPD patients of learning harmonica. Dr. Mark Aronica, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says he’s “not surprised that patients are finding harmonica therapy helpful. The harmonica is one of the few instruments played by both breathing in and out,” Dr. Aronica says. “So, I imagine it has some benefit in teaching breathing control, which can help reduce COPD symptoms.”1

The music therapist teaches a class of COPD patients the correct way to breathe to make notes and familiar songs. Therapists say playing harmonica exercises muscles needed to pull air in and push air out of the lungs. It also strengthens abdominal muscles for a better cough, helping patients clear the lungs. Researchers are measuring health benefits over a 12-week period.

Harmonicas for Health

At Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, there is a program and study called “Harmonicas for Health.” A recent television broadcast from KSAT in Dallas interviewed COPD patients who participate in the program and seem to enjoy it quite a bit. Mary Hart, Project Manager and COPD Educator, is shown saying, “We are seeing significant improvement in muscle strength and the six-minute walk test. That’s how far they can walk in six minutes.”2

There are a variety of musical styles (blues, western, country) that are played on the harmonica.

Learning lessons available

If you search for “harmonica lessons” on YouTube you’ll come across a number of excellent instructors who have created videos giving terrific step-by-step lessons of learning. So, get out there and blow that “harp” (blues music slang for the harmonica). But - just don’t make the same mistake I made initially - I forgot to wait until everyone else had left the house before I started practicing!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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