Harmonica Overdraws & Overblows

I was just chatting with @Slim on another thread about harmonicas with alternate tunings, and the subject of overblows and overdraws came up tangentially, and I realized that it such a popular topic these days, I’d better go ahead and start a thread where we can chat about it.

First of all, I think many people become obsessed with talking about and learning this technique and, I don’t wanna sound like a broken record here, but the vast majority of us harp players would be better served focusing our attention on the deep relaxed mouth position, being able to isolate really clean notes with lip blocking, being able to get draw bends on clean on draws 1-6, getting intonation of half step bends on -2, -6, and especially the -3, being able to get the blow bends on holes 8-10, learning scales and patterns of scales, learning how to improvise well, working on our time, playing with dynamics… You get the idea. I didn’t even mention tongue blocking and all of the possibilities it opens up. I could just go on and on and on. And then after that, explore tongue blocking.

That’s my opinion.

None of my favorite harp players I grew up listening to used overblows (with the notable exception of harmonica overblow and overdraw master Howard Levy, of course.) So I don’t really sweat it too much.

On any instrument there are difficult techniques that are impressive mostly only to people who play that instrument. For example, trumpet players are obsessed with playing super-high notes, because it’s difficult to do. They’re like, “look at me trumpet players, I can play even HIGHER than you.” But those of us who don’t play trumpet are like, “Ow. You’re hurting my ears!” :rofl:

There was a time in my life that I felt really committed to learning the overdraw and overblow techniques so that I could finally get those “missing notes.” But, what I gathered from scouring forums is that success with these techniques is heavily dependent upon the harmonica being “set up” to play overdraws and overbends.

Now, I don’t know if you’re the tinkering type. I give myself like a B- in handiness, and I’m most challenged with really small work projects like…adjusting the reeds inside of a harmonica. My understanding is that in order to be able to play overblows and overdraws, the reeds need to be gapped really close to the reed plate.

So the idea is to get a toothpick or something and put some pressure on the reed you want to be able to overblow (or overdraw) and get it to be closer to the reed plate.

But here’s the rub: closely gapped reeds can choke if you play them too hard and/or if they are gapped too close to the opening.

Now I should note here that this was 10 years ago when I went on this mission, and my technique has improved a lot since then. Once substantial way is that I played with waaaay to much force back then. I was blowing and drawing the HECK out of my harmonica. So I do have a lighter approach now, and maybe I should explore this world again and see if my experience is different.

But, what happened to me was, I found I could get the harp to overblow, but then it would choke sometimes when I was jus playing normally. That was SO FRUSTRATING to me. So then I’d go back in, make the gap a little bib bigger, and then I could play and have it never choke, but I could never get the overblow.

Recently I was watching one of Alex’s videos about insanely hard licks, which are all Howard Levy licks, and while working on one, I was able to get an overblow on the 6 on a Lee Oskar key of F, without any aftermarket modification. I’m not sure why? I’m not sure if high holes are easier to overblow than low holes?

Also, in my article on which harmonica to buy, I mention about how much JP would sing the praises of the Seydel 1847’s once they’re setup aftermarket by a couple guys mentioned in the article, and he mentions that it’s easy to do overblows.

The Hohner website says that Howard Levy, who in mind is the consummate master of the technique, plays Hohner Marine Bands and Golden Melody’s.

Anyways, that gets the conversation started from my perspective. What’s your perspective/experience with overblows and overdraws?


Very good information and advice, Luke. This is really a huge topic and sort of a Pandora’s Box. I will try to keep my remarks here short and to the point (I know, unusual for me :crazy_face:).

In my experience it is a matter of luck; but sometimes I have found a reasonably priced harp (e.g. a Hohner Special 20 or a Suzuki Blues Master and others) that have allowed me to do at least some overblows (especially +6o, sometimes +5o) right out of the box. I then think that, “Hey! This is the harp model for me!” So I buy another of the same brand and model – and it is a disaster!! :astonished: :rage:

But let’s be honest: mass producing blues harps for a reasonable price just does not permit every one to be perfectly set up. In other words: consistency and fine tolerances cost money! :frowning_face:

You can teach yourself how to customize a harp (at least somewhat), but be prepared to ruin several while learning and even afterwards. So perhaps it is best (in terms of money spent, and quality of results) to just bite the bullet and pay a professional to do it better and to do it right! Good customizers also offer reasonably priced (some even free) maintenance work on the harps they have sold.

In my personal experience the harp having the best out-of-the-box setup and overblow performance and still having a reasonable price has been the Hohner Golden Melody. They also have good draw bending on hole 3 (all 3 bend notes are often immediately playable).

There have been other harps that give pretty consistent and decent out-of-the-box playability, but now you are starting to get into the higher price range – and I wanted to keep this restricted to lower priced harps.

My final comment: I have yet to purchase a blues harp that I can overdraw out-of-the-box.

Well, this turned out to be not so short – so I hope that it has been worth your time to read it.


– Slim


Yes, well worth the time. Thank you so much, Slim! I have one Golden Melody - it’s a C - and I went to try an overblow on 6 and, sure enough, I actually did it!

I couldn’t hold the note for any length, but I could get it to pop out. Please note I’ve never gotten a 6 over blow on any C harp before (thought I have gotten them on my Lee Oskar key of F harmonica.) So I think I’m in agreement with you, Slim - maybe the Golden Melody is the best bet.

BTW - the technique for getting overblows is the same mouth position as for bends (tongue in the “kk zone”) but you actually say “kk” to activate the bend. Whereas when I’m bending normally, my tongue goes to where it would be to make the “kk” sound, I don’t actually literally say the consent “kk.” Whereas when I’m going for an overblow, I actually say “kk” outlaid at the beginning of the note.

Is this the way you approach the technique as well?

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Well … yes and no !! I find that for the harps that I have adjusted the gaps on and seem to have done it well, I can overblow without using the “kk” method. One thing that really helped me was the following:

Remove the cover plates from the harp.

Then for the hole that you wish to learn/practice overblowing (+1, +4, +5 or +6 … whereby +6 is typically the best one to begin with, and most find +1 the most difficult) place a finger on the top side of the harp (where the blow reeds are located) so that the entire slot for that hole’s blow reed is covered.

You will now not be able to play that blow note, but you can play the overblow (which is actually produced by the draw reed for that hole even though you are blowing into the hole).

Do not force things by blowing too hard !! It should actually be possible to overblow with only a mild to moderate amount of force (otherwise you may damage the reeds). Do this for that hole repeatedly and (when you are able to overblow it) pay very close attention to your tongue and throat position.

Now put the cover plates back on to your harp and see if you can reproduce the correct tongue and throat position to get an overblow. The actual positions may be slightly different (since the blow slot is no longer blocked by your finger), but it should be possible to eventually overblow with the harp assembled.

If this just does not work with the harp assembled, but it did work when you blocked the blow slot with your finger, then the first place to look is the gap of that hole’s blow reed: it is probably too large. So reduce the gap slightly and try again. Repeat this until overblowing with the harp assembled works. But as Luke already mentioned, when the blow reed’s gap is too small then the blow reed can easily become stuck and not permit you to play it (this often happens to me immediately after overblowing that hole): you now have entered the dreaded Gap Trap :dizzy_face: :grin: and need to continue adjusting things (including the draw reed’s gap) until it all works – time consuming and possibly dangerous for your harp’s survival :woozy_face: But care and patience can reward you with a new note that you can now play on your harp!


– Slim


DUDE! I’ve got a story to tell you. Something happened when I was just visting family in Colorado.

I was on YouTube searching for someone showing how Charlie Byrd plays his amazing guitar parts on the Brazilian song O Pato with Stan Getz on sax. I’m supposed to play guitar on this Brazilian gig end of month and that song in on the song list.

Well, I happened upon somebody teaching it on HARMONICA! Check it out here.

I was pretty stoked on the sound of it. Plus he’s doing it in 12th position which I haven’t played with much, and I’m having so much fun beginning to explore that position.

But I noticed at the end of the phrase there was an overblow and I was like, “Oh no. I can’t do it. I don’t know how to overblow.” And then I was like well let me just TRY. And I messed around and, boom I could do the (6)

So I haven’t gone back to learn the B section to the tune (which has more overblows) BUT I’ve been having SO MUCH FUN working on overblows.

The harp I’ve been playing and really enjoying as I work out this new technique is a Hohner Crossover in the key of A. I’ve been really enjoying playing Birdland by Weather Report, something like:

(6) -6 (6) -6 (6) -6 6 5 6 -6 (6) -6 6 5 -4 6

and Straight No Chaser by Thelonious Monk, something like:

-4 6 -6 (6) -7
-4 6 -6 (6) -7 7 (6)

and playing cool riffs in 2 octaves that I could only do in the lower octave before, like:

-1 2 -2 -3’-3 -4 5 6 (6) -7 -8 8 9

I’m having so much fun, man. 30 years playing harmonica, and all of a sudden I’m finally playing the “missing note” that I chased for so many years.

So after doing that for a couple days, I started working on the (4) and got that to pop out. Tone starting to get better on it. Sooo cool playing fun boogie boogie things in 1st position (or over the IV chord in 2nd position,) like

4 (4) 5 6 -6 (6) 6 -6 6 (4) 5 4

The (5) was the one that took me the longest to get. But I’m getting it now. I can’t sustain it and really have it sound good yet. But I can do it in a passing tone.

Woo hoo! 3 new notes. Now I can outline all the chords with hipness:

V -4 -5 (5) -6 -7 -6
IV 4 (4) 5 6 -6 6
I -2 -3’ -3 -4 5 -4

So happy to share this exciting news with you. Feels like a whole new world is opening up, and as you can probably sense, I’m having a BALL!!

Rock on,


Hi @Luke

I am very happy to hear that you are now playing the overblows !!! :partying_face: That is really MEGA cool !! :sunglasses: Keep us informed and give any tips that you found helped you achieve this.

Unrelated to that, I am impressed by anyone who can play Charlie Byrd style on the guitar. I saw him live one time back around 1970/71 in Baltimore, MD. It was a solo concert and truly a dream !!


– Slim


WOW! So cool! Just to clarify, I CANNOT play guitar like Charlie Byrd! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: (That’s why I was looking for a some kind of YT tutorial for O Pato!)

But I DO love playing Brazilian songs and my wife does sing quite a few in Portuguese.

Yes, I’m having a blast incorporating Overblows (4) (5) and (6) on my Hohner Crossover key of A.

I’m playing them all pretty consistently now. Tone on the (6) is pretty good, still working on getting better tone on (4) and (5).

(4) has come along. (5) is is the hardest for me to get to sound beautiful for some reason. But I am absolutely LOVING the process. (And my wife is SO TIRED of hearing me blab about it all the time, LOL.)

I’m also really loving exploring 12th position, and have found that, using overblows, I can play the Blues Scale in 12th as well as the Major Pentatonic scale that is naturally available using regular bends. (12th position major pentatonic = 3rd position minor pentatonic.)

I’m finding 2 things that are helping me improve the tone of the overblows:
1.) Long tones - playing an overblow for an entire breath
2.) Playing melodies that incorporate the overblows.

#2 above is most helpful because my ear naturally wants to hear the tone sound similar to the rest of the (non over-blow) notes of in the melody, and my body seems to do what it needs to do to get it to sound better.

When it sounds like total crap, then I go back to #1 trying to make minute adjustments to mouth position until it (hopefully) sounds better at some point in the process, lol.

I am so JAZZED man. So many ideas are starting to flow…

Onwards and Upwards,


As I said @Luke, I am thrilled that you are overblowing and seeing/realizing the whole world of opportunities that it opens up for harp players. :sunglasses:

I’ll have to take your word about your guitar skills and Mr. Byrd, but I still am impressed that you are trying to play something in his style! He was really under-rated (in my probably poorly informed mind) and I rarely meet people who even have heard of him :cry:

Keep on harpin’ and keep us informed on your overblowing discoveries. :point_left:


– Slim


Hallo @Luke und @Slim, ihr beiden fesselt mich immer wieder, sogar in der Theorie.
Heute Mittag war ich erstmals auf den Begriff “Overblows” gestoßen. Da ich immer neugierig bin, den Begriff im Internet erklären lassen und auf YouTube einiges angeschaut.
Natürlich habe ich es auch an meiner Harp getestet, um ein Gefühl zu bekommen. Natürlich tat sich nichts, war auch nicht zu erwarten.
Jetzt habe ich euren Austausch gelesen und denke, auch verstanden.
Vielleicht treffe ich zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt noch einmal auf den Begriff und dann weiß ich schon, um was es geht.
Good Boys! :smiley:

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Hey Slim - well now that I can consistently get (4) (5) and (6) overblows (although playing them in tune, in time, and with good tone are all hit or miss! :rofl:) on my Crossovers and Golden Melodies (mostly Crossovers) I’m finding myself wanting to be able to get the (-1) and (-7) overdraws!

My (6) overblow is probably the one I can do easiest, which is probably the note I’ve always most lamented not having for that b3 in the upper middle octave in 2nd position - and now I’m getting greedy and want the b5 that the (-7) would give me too! :wink:

And then the (-1) overdraw would be nice for the 1st position blues scale in the bottom octave!

Anyway my Golden Melody A harp was already missing a screw so I took the other one out and took off the bottom cover plate and held the draw reed 7 and I was able to get the (-7) overdraw when I was holding the reed. But of course, as soon as I let go of it, I could no longer get th overdraw!

Re-reading your post here, I couldn’t tell for sure, but it seems like perhaps you have successfully set up your own harps to be able to do overdraws?

If so, is it just a matter of reducing the gap of the draw reed? Do you also wax the draw reed?

If you’ve done it, I’m considering gathering my courage to try working on those 2 holes. The (-8) and (-9) overblows aren’t exciting enough to be worth the effort for me, but the (-1) and (-7) just might be getting there!

Of course I would first try it on one of my cheaper or less preferred harps before trying it on a Golden Melody or Crossover!



Hi Luke @Luke

I have not even attempted overblows and/or overdraws for so long now that I don’t think that I can even do them any more! I prefer to use my Power-tuned harps (PowerBender and PowerDraw) or my Wilde-tuned harps and with them I can bend the top octaves just how I want them. :star_struck: With the PowerBender I also get the F# (which on that tuning is -6’) and the Eb (-5’) so easily that overblows became obsolete for me. :boom:

I don’t think that I ever successfully modified any of my harps for overdrawing – I could always do it easily in the same way you did: holding down the draw reed – but I was never fast enough to do that during a jam!! :rofl:

– Slim :sunglasses:


LOL. Yeah, I’ve been enjoying overblowing when I’m noodling around. But when it comes time to IMPROVISE IN THE POCKET, I just can’t do them with good tone and good time. I’m still undecided if I’ll ever really incorporate them into my playing.

BTW - on the subject of alternate tunings. I was talking with Roly Platt today, and one tuning he does is lowering the JUST the -7 a half-step so you’ve got that nice b3 up there in 2nd position (and you can still get the major 3rd on a 7’)

I’ve always thought about that idea, and thinking if I get brave enough to try tuning one of my harps, that might be the first thing I try!



Hi Luke @Luke

I have retuned several harps by simply lowering the -7 by a half-step (I have often seen that referred to as “Parrot” or “Parott” tuning – unsure about the spelling – named after the harpist Todd Parott). It is … OK, but I still prefer a Power or a Wilde tuning for several reasons:

  • you get the more “emotional” sounding flat 3rd wth them (much more like you. get on hole 3 draw).
  • you get the ability to draw down hole 8 to -8’ (flat 5th).
  • plus the things I mentioned in previous post (above).

You simply need to try a Parott tuning on one of your “extra” harps to see if you like it or not. “Personal preference” again :roll_eyes: as with so many things. But it is very easy to do and involves only that one reed (draw 7) so you only need to remove the covers and start filing!

– Slim :sunglasses:

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Thanks @Slim! I’ll have to find out what kind of file, where to file, etc…



Ok, Luke @Luke, I’ve got you (and anyone out there who wants or needs to lower the pitch of a reed) covered!

Use this 8 minute video to see how to do this (and save me from typing a very long post) :laughing:

Be sure to watch the entire video before doing anything on your own. I suggest using a good tuning app to check your progress, but doing as he did in the video is also good and using both is the best. As for a file: I believe the Lee Oskar tool kit includes one. Otherwise buy or use a cheap slender file (as in the video).

I also suggest that to lower the pitch you remove material over the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the length of the reed (at the rivet end). If you remove too much and need to sharpen the note, remove from the far end (again 1/3 to 1/2 of the length). In other words: when lowering pitch, do not keep filing away at just one spot because the reed will become too weak and will fail sooner – use the entire 1/3 to 1/2 of the reed length.

Also: only file lengthwise (in the long direction of the reed), not crosswise (which also would shorten the life of the reed by weakening it).

If you remove too much material and need to sharpen the reed, do not file the very tip of the reed (it can be done but is tricky and requires more skill and caution). It is better to stop and check your progress regularlybefore you remove too much material!! :point_left:

Needless to say, all of this also applies to blow reeds – but then you must remove the blow reed plate from the comb.

– Slim :sunglasses:

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@Slim I’ve kinda come full circle to my initial post on this thread, at which point, as you know, I was not able to do overblows and overdraws.

Then I discovered I could do them (on holes 4,5,6 on my Hohner Crossover Key of A) and had fun messing around with. (LOTS OF FUN!!) Oh to FINALLY play those missing notes. What a thrill

I was having SO much fun with those 3 formerly missing notes, that I began thinking, “I want the other notes too! Maybe I should get a harp customized so I can get the 1 overblow and 7 overdraw?…”

A couple days later I happened to see Ronnie Shellist (whom I admire and respect greatly) mention that he doesn’t use overblows and overdraws in his playing (even though he’s capable of executing them.)

Shortly thereafter I was playing along with a jam track, having been inspired by Roly Platt to do so, who says in The Practice of Practice (which I highly recommend to anyone interested) that he spends 50% of his practice time working on phrasing, jamming along with backing tracks, and I noticed I could not play my overblows in the pocket with good tone and good time.

To make matters worse, immediately after trying and failing to get the the 6 overblow to play with “in the pocket”, the regular 6 blow then wasn’t responding at all in good time for the subsequent few bars. Aaargh. I felt frustrated and upset. What am I doing? I am NOT AS FAR along with this overblow thing as I thought I was…

Of course this is just a technical deficiency which theoretically could be remedied with more practice, but there are so many great things to practice (and only 187 hours in a week! :wink:) and all the while, the great Ronnie Shellist’s words are echoing in my brain.

Then when I was reading Howard Levy’s Rhythms of Breath Vol. 1 I noticed that he gave a big shot out to Joe Filisko, “the world’s greatest harmonica customizer.

“That’s so funny,” I thought to myself. “I never think of Joe Filisko as a harmonica customizer.

As you probably know, Joe Filisko has been my main harmonica mentor for the last 3 years, and it struck me as odd that in all of our correspondence, the subject of overblows/overdraws had never come up even once!

It just struck me as so odd that Howard Levy, the king of overblows/overdraws is thanking my mentor for enabling him to do what he (brilliantly) does, and my mentor has never once even mentioned the subject? :thinking:

So the other day, I’m placing an order with Greg Jones for a Seydel 1847 Silver to confirm if his customization fixes the issue I’ve had with responsiveness on -2 and -3 on those instruments in the past, and he asks me, “What are you wanting?”

I’m froze. “Dang! What the heck am I wanting???

A few days ago I had thought that I wanted a OB/OD setup, but then with my frustrations jamming, and Ronnie Shellist’s words echoing in my head… I felt like… **this is the crossroads.

I’m gonna make my decision right now. I decided,** “I’m gonna ask Joe Filisko what he thinks, and I’m gonna go with his recommendation.”

I’m copying and pasting his response here:

Joe Filisko
I try and avoid them. Always the thinnest and smallest sound. Also very inflexible. I’m a big sound and tone player 😜

I wrote to him saying that, in light of his response, I’m thinking I’ll not go down that whole rabbit hole and just use alternate tunings when a song may require it. To which he responded:

I’m confident that you and your students will be happier. I used to be into that 30 years ago but have gotten farther and farther away from it

BOOM. And just like that, I’m back to where I’d been for 3 decades before I got my first overblow: just doing my best to have fun and make musical awesomeness on the harmonica using:

  • lip blocking
  • tongue blocking
  • regular draw and blow bends.

Tongue blocking is actually a great technique to contrast with OB/OD’s. Both techniques I hadn’t really done until the last few years.
Tongue blocking opens up so many possibilities, all of which I teach an introduction to in Beginner to Boss.

The longer I spend with the technique, the more I find myself having fun with what it can bring into my playing.

I had a 3 hour harmonica gig at the beginning of this month. I’d say I was employing tongue blocking techniques at least 40% of the night. I didn’t even think to try an overblow once.


Wow !! What a post, Luke @Luke !! I agree with you and also with what Joe Filisko has said.

I suppose that if I were back in high school and beginning to learn the harmonica then I might try to really put in the time and effort to master overblows and overbends – but at my age that is completely ridiculous.

I am happy to listen to those great players who can play overblows and overbends as they should be played, but I will be concentrating on improving my basic harp skills and hitting that -3" cleanly, getting the -3’’’ to sound good and perhaps mix in more tongue blocking/slapping and octave splitting into my music.

Great post, Luke!

– Slim :sunglasses:


From my experience, I can sorta play overblows on OOTB factory gapped harps, it just depends on the key, and I can’t overdraw on them. I think both can be used as creative tools to add more expression, especially if you’re bending the overblows, and to be able to play in keys you’ve never played before. My teacher often uses overblows and overdraws when he plays and he also said to me if I want to keep the Terry McMillan vibe in my playing style and learn how to overblow properly, I could use the 6 overblow to get that high blue third.


So Todd said Terry McMillan would use the 6 over-blow in his playing?

No. But he told me if Terry was around during the age of overblows and customized harps, he would’ve jumped on the bandwagon.

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