Re: Some Harp Questions

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Posted by Dr Harmonica on October 22, 2000 at 03:44:27:

In Reply to: Some Harp Questions posted by John Prichard on October 11, 2000 at 01:59:55:

: Got some harp questions:

: 1) I still have my first harp, it's a Hohner Golden Melody in C, and it sounds great. the place where I play mostly (towards to bottom end) is tarnished on the plates. is this normal wear and tear or is this poor mouth cleaning/etc? I thought I was doing fine but after a few months its become rather black. how do I clean it?

That is normal staining of the nickel finish on the plates. You should see my Chinese made Huang Star Performers sometimes. Nickel tarnishes; there is no way around that. It is the main reason why some people are alergic to nickel. Hohner pormised to better their lives and use stainless steel from now on for all their models. I have yet to see the first, but I am willing to give them the benifit of the doubt. Who knows. They wake up some 50 years after their competitors...

: 2) Will the alchohol on my breath hurt the wood body of my Marine band harp? It's really my favorite and I'd like to not ruin it.

If so, I wouldn't have a single wood-bodied harp left. For your info: some highly specialized lab tests, using the most advanced and refined methods, have shown the probability traces of air may exist in the alcohol fumes I exhale.

: 3) When I try to get 3 draw bend down low enough to get the 9th/2nd in songs like "corina corina", it sounds. . . funky. Very loose and hard to hit first off - and so quiet! . Many times I just get a very flat minor third, which is a good cheater, but I'd love some input on getting a full-bodied sound out of the thing. I'd expect the difficulty on my Marine Band in A, but my trusty Golden Melody in C should be easier, right?

It is a given fact that the higher the pitch of the note, the smaller the mouth movement needed to bend it. So on a C harmonica the bend should come out easier than it does on an A, yet the A is not low enough to form an excuse for you not to be able to bend the 3D to full bend, i.e. 3 half-steps. In fact it's a breeze, you just gotta' know how. The whole thing is purely psychological, but that is clear from the start right?
Well, I'm in a good mood today, so I'll tell you the little secret. Start out with your C harmonica, that is the simplest. Once you have that down pat, it is very easy to step up or down to any other key.

- First you have to visualize the spot where the air stream from the harmonica hits your tongue when drawing a natural tone on any hole. Depending on your playing style and the pitch of the note that normally should be somewhere just in front of the middle of your tongue.

- Now do a bend. How far you bend is not important. Draw any bend, as long as it's a good one. Hold that and visualize the spot again where the air stream hits your tongue. You will notice it is farther back, somewhere near the back of your tongue or even on your uvula if you draw a deep bend. Right?

- Now I don't know what trick you are using to make bends work for you and at the risk of sounding like a blunt *sshole: I don't care at all. Whatever it is, it's got to change in order for you to make this work. Instead of using your own trick, you will have to start using a new one. One that I found out always works, regardless the pitch of the hole, regardless the key of the harp and even regardless if it is a draw bend or a blow bend. No need to develop muscle memory for any given bend separately, just one universal trick that works all the time.

Now here's the psychology bit:

- Draw a natural note again, and again mark that spot on your tongue. Now mentally grab a hold on that spot and draw it backward, deeper into your throat. In order to do so you have to make room for it, so automatically your throat opens, your tongue and jaw drop and your breathing goes down to where it should be in the first place: from your diaphragm. Draw that spot down, deeper and deeper, all the way down to your stomach if need be. You will hear the bent note follow suit and stop when you can't bend any further. Use your ears to determine if you're in the correct pitch.

- Kazam! You're there. It's like magic, isn't it? Don't expect it to work the first time (although for me it did). You will use it conciously at first, but practice until you drop; until you are able to perform the stunt without thinking about it. Also practice to hit bends right the first time using this trick. Visualize the spot where you want the airstream to hit and go for that from the start.

- Blow bends work the same way, but they need a little bit of extra imagination. Therefore I would advise you to get the draw bends first and become proficient in that before you attempt to use this trick on blow bends. You will see it is easier that way.

- For blow bends, imagine the spot where the sound/air stream originates on your tongue. Once you have that, push the spot outward, through your teeth by humping up and tensioning your tongue a bit. See, it works (well, it should anyway....).

That's all there is to it dude. I use that stuff all the time, and never think of it unless I want a really low bend, like on a low C or low D harmonica.

: 4) Any tips on using a microphone? I started just cupping a mic in my palms and holding the harp on the edges, and I've fallen in love with the raw, yet sweet tone of amplified harmonica. great for jamming with my friends.

The sound is you, not some stupid hunk of electronics. The gear won't improve your sound, just amplify your mistakes. So keep working on your acoustic tone until you are fully satisfied with that. Then and only then you can think about amplfying it. Of course you can use amplification before your acoustic sound is perfect, but be prepared to be disappointed by the effect of it then. All the great amplified players, like Junior Wells and Big Walter Horton, had a great acoustic sound as well. There is no such thing as an electronic wonder device improving your soud.
When playing a bullet mic, be sure to make a cup around it that is as airtight as possible. Hold the mic in the palms of your hands, outside edges. Use your fingers to cup the top side and rest the harp on your index fingers. Hold it down with your thumbs on the outsides, just next to the first and last hole. Use your mouth and chin to cup the side facing you. Practice until that cup is as airtight as possible. That gives the best sound. By fluttering some fingers you can create effects.

: 5) Am I eventually going to have to learn tongue blocking? tongue position is important for my personal bending technique, and I really would rather keep up this whistle method - i always hit single notes and have good pitch control.

Tongue block is great for playing chords and intervals. I also use the lip purse method almost all the time, but I switch to TB for doing nasty stuff. A great way to learn TB is buying Jerry Portnoy's Masterclass CD/Booklet package. It is not cheap; to be honest it's darn expensive, but it's well worth the money.
So in short: the answer is YES.

: feel free to email me with an answer, I'd love someone to correspond with about harp.

Will do.

Good luck and happy harpin'
- featuring Thirsty, the groggy froggy

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