ID (10) T User Error?

As I think is the case for most of us who are learning how to bend the harmonica to create the fantastic bluesy tones possible, it’s an adventure in frustration, elation, and confusion.

Sometimes it seems like I’m getting the hang of it and the next it seems like I’m picking up the harp for the first time.

After believing my Lee Oscar in A was faulty and therefore difficult to hit draw bends on the 2 and 3, as compared to my Special 20 in Db, I’m beginning to think it’s just an

ID(10)T User Error

This is what I’ve learned:

  1. Squeezing the harmonica doesn’t cause it to bend any more, squinching up your face does, however, seem to help for some reason.

  2. Limiting the airflow does seem to help, also giving limitless opportunities to create “Wa-wa” effects.

  3. Sometimes it just seems the harp needs to “warm up” a bit before creating sounds on certain notes.

  4. Bending in and out of notes isn’t nearly as difficult as holding a bent note steady for a period of time.

  5. There are many more tones and sounds that we can make on the harp than those indicated on the charts.

  6. Though two people can play the same notes with the same melody, they will still likely have subtle differences.

  7. I now understand how learning how to bend and to hit notes consistently with quality, can take awhile to master.

  8. I never cease to be amazed by this wonderful, small instrument that fits in your pocket but which can create so many wonderful sounds.

My greatest difficulty is going from a nice resonant 2 draw into a solid 3 draw bent a half step in the Blues Scale. Too much air intake on the two draw takes me down into a bend, while my -3’ still sounds a lot like a lame duck.

Still not sure if more important in bending is our technique or the harp we are using, though I’m favoring the former over the latter.

What’s your biggest challenge bending?

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Great post @HarpinBobbyMcB

I am able to get the -4’ effortless now, and I can get the -3 and -2 down, but the sound varies. Although the last time it sounded better than the previous times.

I have also been cheating and playing blues in 2nd position in the high register, and I’ve found that going between -6 and -6’ makes for a nice sound when playing along to a blues track

My biggest challenge now must be the -2" I can get it down, but the sound could use some improvement

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They suggest tilting the harp up a bit to bend. What I discovered is that what also works (for me at least) is to tilt the harp DOWN - try it.
Robert
The Great White North

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Seems like just about anything that reduces airflow can cause a bend to some extent or another. I like what @Luke mentioned about top lip bends vs bottom lip bends.

My challenge is getting the notes clear and on demand.

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“Bending in and out of notes isn’t nearly as difficult as holding a bent note steady for a period of time.”

Yes, roger that my friend! And once you can bend, that’s the exercise you wanna be doing. Bend it and see how long you can hold it! :metal:t3::sunglasses::100:

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This is great advice, thanks @Luke.

Im still having a lot of trouble on my bends with my LeeOskar in A. Sometimes it’s tough even just getting a normal old 2 draw to sound clean.

Funny thing is I got the A harp to play 2nd position in E, but now if I wanna really grab some “low dough” and get some nice bends, in the Blues Scale in particular, I automatically grab my Hohner in key of Db, which is much easier to bend.

I’m still wondering if it’s me with improper technique, or if it may be a set up issue.

Sounds like it may be time to open her up and take a look under the hood to check the gaps again. Last time I did, they seemed fine but still having trouble. I hate to fiddle around with the reed spacing too much but see no other option.

As a rule, are lower tuned harps more difficult to bend? :thinking: :thought_balloon:

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Hello @HarpinBobbyMcB,
can be due to the harp, but it doesn’t have to be. I can bend well 70% of the time playing it as single notes. In a song, with more tasks involving beat, melody and correct tones, things are different. It tells me that bending hasn’t “gone into the blood” yet. I remembered my first exercises when driving a car with gears, it was the same there. Pure overload and a few weeks later, automatism. Your mouth with tongue and larynx must first memorize the process with the correct position. Currently I’m practicing bending from -1 to -4 every day and it’s getting better. That’s all I do on the harp, no pressure, very relaxed. Greetings from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:

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Thanks Astrid, you give a great example! :blush:

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Thank you so much for your compliments, @HarpinBobbyMcB. I think the time I invest now in the finer points I will gain later. The basics and understanding of the game are there. I’m sure yours is too, and I think we’ve learned a lot in the last few months. Don’t underestimate it! Everything takes time, a :green_apple: also needs time to mature. :wink:

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I’m already noticing progress that my harps no longer have any foreign matter inside… :joy: The saliva and air have normalized and that alone is worth a lot. I also appreciate that when I think back to the beginnings. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

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Lower harps require bigger mouth movements and therefore are more difficult to bend. Particularly the -2" on the A harp (and G and LF) is one of the toughest. Higher harps, smaller mouth movements.

It’s not the harp my brother! Just keep after it. It’s that yawning thing - lift the soft palette and open the back of the throat. You’ll get it!

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That’s how it is… :joy: @Luke and @HarpinBobbyMcB. This rascal - thing, together in the dance with the larynx a wondrous thing when bending.

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It’s funny @Luke, after you confirmed it was in fact a user error, all of a sudden I got a nice strong 3’ which previously made no sound at all or just sounded like a hissing snake!

As often happens, replicating that note has been a challenge, but I heard it, so it’s definitely there!

That note is of great interest to me as the 2nd note in the Blues scale on the way up. :point_up_2:

On a related question just a normal 2 draw seems much more subtle on the lower harp and not as easy to get. Too hard and it can bend. Seems I need to be gentle on the draw, using a lot of air and having in just a certain position to get it right, where in the other holes just about any draw or position will do.

Is this normal that the 2 draw should take more air and more finesse to sound right? :thinking:

Makes sense what you say about the yawn and the throat @Luke, you rock :rocket: :sunglasses: :+1:

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Hi @HarpinBobbyMcB

In my experience with many different harps (different keys, different manufacturers, different models) I have noticed that any time one or two holes are significantly more difficult/challenging to play than the holes in their immediate vicinity then there is almost always a problem with the reed gaps in those problem holes.

After removing the the harp covers and removing the reed plates from the comb, examine those reed gaps closely (even with a magnifiying glass :face_with_monocle: ) and compare them to their neighbors. The differences need not be very great to cause such problems, and sometimes even the slightest change in the gap of a problem reed can make a surprising change in its playability. :point_left:

Even if you do not think that you see anything strange in those problem holes, I would suggest changing the gap ever so slightly (using for example a toothpick or a narrow metal probe with a blunt point), then putting everything back together again and testing the result. This may need to be repeated several times and, without seeing the gap myself, I cannot tell you to increase or decrease it. If you make any change in the gap you will probably notice a change in the playability. If it has become even worse, then you either changed the gap in the wrong direction or simply too much (which is why it is very important to only make small changes until you become more expert at doing this). :thinking:

The reason I suggest doing this is based on my experience and also the fact that if the gap is the culprit then it is not going to improve on its own – so you need to step in and go to work. Trying to adjust your playing style for one or two holes on just one or two of your harps will only lead to you developing bad playing habits.

Regards,
– Slim

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Thanks for this great advice @Slim!

I had opened her up a few times before and never got much difference from my tweaks. This time, I opened all three of my harps and compared the gaps as you brilliantly suggest. This time instead of trying to reduce the gap, I did the opposite and it did help!

Here are a few pics of my adventure:

PXL_20220316_164343580

I am hesitant to put too much pressure, because though my 4 draw on my Easttop C harp was already going flat, I helped to give it a complete blowout with a bit too much force.

It’s always kinda scary to open our harps up, but as you wisely suggest, it can lead to improve our playing.

The 2 draw still takes a bit of finesse, but it got easier with the tweak.

Thanks again @Slim :sunglasses:

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I haven’t opened up a harp in the last decade. Partly that’s laziness, partly ineptitude, but I like to blame my poor eyesight! :joy:

But in my experience 19 times out of 20, the issue is technique and not the harmonica. Even with suboptimal harmonica setup, most times I find you can alter your technique to overcome these physical challenges.

Just my $.02.

Rock on,
Luke

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Your $.02 is worth at least a buck fifty and then some in my book @Luke, and then I’ll throw in the balance to buy you a nice cold brewski :beers:

Cheers! :joy:

Actually your last advice about:

Really hit home!

Fortunately I didn’t screw anything up when I opened up and tinkered with my ladies (though I confess that on a previous occasion I took a 4 draw that was going flat on my Easttop and gave it a blowout, taking it out of commission).

The advice @Slim gave me did help a bit though on the unbent 2 draw which was stressing me out because it just didn’t seem to come as easily as I wanted, but the rest really does seem to come down to technique as you say @Luke

It’s still a challenge to hit my bends on the fly in a tune consistently, but I’m starting to get a bit better.

Every once in awhile I get these really nice sounding bends which sound a bit like a trumpet :trumpet: and that encourages me to keep practicing, at times to the chagrin of those around me. :eyes:

Amazed more every day with the new world harmonicas have opened for me.

Thanks to all for your support and advice

:sunglasses::pray::+1:

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