Playing my new harmonica

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

Playing my new harmonica

Postby JohnnyB » Thu Jul 31, 2008 7:35 pm

Sorry if this is off topic, but it seems less off topic here then under Harmonica Tabs heh. I picked up a harmonica and book and started teaching myself a little while back. I'm just curious about some trouble I'm having with my harmonica and if it's just me or if it's a cheap harmonica. The harmonica is a Hohner Special 20, made in germany No. 560/20. 10 hole diatonic C harmonica. Alright so.. holes 8, 9, and 10 are very hard to play single notes on, hole 10 being the most difficult. I feel like I have to blow differently on those holes then on any other hole to get any sound of, inhaling isn't as difficult as exhaling on these three holes. Exhaling usually sounds like I've got my mouth up against a wall and am blowing into it, even though I'm right over the hole the same as holes 7 and down which I can play fine. Hole 10 is the most difficult and it seems the way that I exhale into it has to be so precise to sound right otherwise it's just a high pitch squeal that hurts the ears. So in short, exhaling into holes 8, 9, and 10 seem very hard even though I have the rest down fine. Is this usually the case? or can the harmonica purchased have an effect on the higher pitch notes and their ease of play? Thanks a lot.

- Johnny B
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby jbone1 » Fri Aug 01, 2008 2:20 am

i think your harp is probably fine. you're experiencing wind control issues. the top end of a lot of harps does take a different attack to get those highs to sound out. it's not about how much air you put through the harp, much more about the focus of the air you do use.
i suggest working with a sp20 in A or G, get the high end stuff down on one of those since they are lower pitched and hence easier to get results on. then try a C and even above that.

jimmy reed made that high end straight or first position harp famous on a lot of his songs. it's only been in recent years that i revisited the style and fell in love with it! the nice thing about first position harp is, you have the entire 10 holes to work with just as they are. with 2nd or cross position, holes 1-6 and sometimes 7 are available, because of the note layout. past that it just doesn't sound right on very many songs.

if you find some breathing exercises like vocalists use, or maybe some yoga, to get you breathing relaxed and from deep down, wind control is much more accessible. the pros have cracked this and guys like ricci, musselwhite, piazza, and a slew of others use their wind control to do some amazing things on harp.

the FIRST rule in my book is, use just enough wind to make the reed sound. remember, a reed is a tiny and fragile little piece of metal! it can be stressed beyond playability pretty easily. any good harp teacher will get you doing scales in various keys to get you started. any sort of exercise that gets you used to how a given hole on your harp works, is a good thing. me? self-taught, but it took YEARS. and a lot of sounding pretty terrible in private-mostly! there are great things on youtube, book/cd/dvd sets, and possibly there may be someone who lives near you who can actually teach you if you're willing.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby bottleneck » Fri Aug 01, 2008 3:32 am

jbone1 is right on.get a G or an A harp and try the same thing.i don't know if you want a note as high as the ten on a C anyway,haha,the dogs in the neighborhood might get upset.if it still doesn't work you may have to youtube setting your reed gaps,but you shouldn't try to learn that on your only harp in a given key.when you get a second C,say because your first one is beyond re-tuning,then you experiment with setting reed gaps,or offset.probably not something you should worry about at this point in time,forget i said anything!

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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby JohnnyB » Fri Aug 01, 2008 6:17 am

Cool thanks for the replies guys, I will have to work on my breathing.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby barbequebob » Fri Aug 01, 2008 5:38 pm

JohnnyB, one thing 99% of all beginning players tend to always have problems with is breath control, often because they generally haven't got a clue that they're always guilty of using excessive breath force AKA playing way the hell too damned hard 24/7/365, and when the beginner is also a horn player, then this becomes further magnified (more lung power is usually needed for horns), and the other big reason is that 99% of all beginners aren't around players who really know what they're doing and won't think twice about getting into your face about it. Getting breathing exercises from a good vocal coach is excellent and learning how to physically relax your entire body so that you don't tense up and need more force to do anything, which aerodynamically, is a very inefficent way of doing things and it wastes so much air and it always leaves you feeling constantly winded. Just remember, play just loud enough that you don't wake up a baby sleeping in the next room.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby MasterBlaster » Mon Aug 04, 2008 9:12 pm

The higher notes are hard to play, for a new player. Some of the lower notes such as 2 draw, can also be difficult for a new player.

It's also possible that your harmonica is not gapped very well.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby barbequebob » Tue Aug 05, 2008 5:52 pm

Gapping may possibly be an issue, but 95% of the time, the problem usually tends to be a player's breath force issue.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby JakeyVimto » Tue Aug 05, 2008 6:58 pm

I just want to point out BBQ is emphatic about this subject because he wants more good harp players in the world, and he's given this advice to many people on here and likely a few places.

And he is spot on, taking note of BBQBob's advice has helped me improve a lot.

So please, give it a go.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby JohnnyB » Tue Aug 05, 2008 8:41 pm

Thanks for all the replies guys I appreciate it. I tried focusing on my breathing more and found that I have already improved on holes 8, 9, and 10 quite a lot. Hole 10 is the only hole that is giving me a little trouble still but I can tell that I'm on the right path and that it was my breathing more than anything giving me grief. I'll keep pluggin away hehe. Like my kite, I never leave home without my harmonica... what else are red lights for if not to play your harmonica :D
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby songdog » Wed Aug 06, 2008 9:38 pm

JohnnyB wrote: what else are red lights for if not to play your harmonica :D


red lights? Grasshopper, one day you must learn to drive with your knees. Then, and only then, will you be able to play at green lights too :twisted:
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby roadkill46 » Thu Aug 07, 2008 3:51 am

i have always found that my special 20's need a break in period. a lot of the old guys would dip them in booze or water/beer, etc pound them out and play. breath control is key, but after a good break in period they sound better and are easier to play. the only one that played great out of the box is my XB 40 in B flat and my Bushman in the same key.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby JohnnyB » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:12 am

Dip it in booze? what does that do to 'break it in' ?
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby too2tall » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:39 am

I agree that breath control is the engine that drives the high end blow notes especially when you start bending those notes and start working it back and forth between holes with the bend to create that tah dah da riff. But I vary the output on the lower end to give the harmonica more dynamics..during some parts of the song I lay back transcending into the rythym looking for a hole here and there to drop in a riff after vocal or on the turnaround but on a solo if I get just one ride thru the loop I hit it hard right away and build it fast and furious and if I get a double ride through the loop I like to start it nice and easy staying in tight with the melody first time through and build it so that the 2nd time through I drop the hammer and take the harp almost to the point of blowing out the reeds sometimes so yes breath control is important in many ways.
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby too2tall » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:42 am

The old timers dipped there marine bands in liquid to swell the wood and make the harp more airtight. I saw a guy soaking a plastic comb harp in water once trying to impress the other harmonica players..*L*
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Re: Playing my new harmonica

Postby jbone1 » Fri Aug 08, 2008 1:22 pm

soaking a wood comb harp is guaranteed to shorten the life of a harp. and ultimately the comb will stay swelled out of shape and potentially tear a layer or 2 of skin off your lips if you're not careful! i know this from early experience.
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