The Thrill (and Agony) of Learning New Technique

All right, I have a WHOLE NEW empathy for my students who are just learning draw bends, or any new technique, for the first time. About a month ago, after playing harmonica for 30 years, I started getting overblows for the for the first time. I stumbled upon a tutorial that required one, and I happened to be playing my Hohner Crossover key of A, and…I actually got the overflow! I was THRILLED…and then FRUSTRATED…and then THRILLED…and then FRUSTRATED… and then…

It started with the (6). I got it to pop out, but then I couldn’t get it. Then I could. Then couldn’t…

Eventually I started getting it consistently, but the tone was pretty awful. And then the more I worked it, the more the tone started getting a tiny bit better. And I was just ELATED that I could play melodic passages that I’d always wanted to play, but couldn’t, because of the missing notes.

I showed my wife and daughter, “Look I can play a new note on the harmonica!” (Dying duck sound.) “I’ve never been able to play that note for the last 30 years. Listen!” (Dying duck sound.) They’re looking at me with big eyes, trying to share in my excitement after hearing probably one of the worst sounds they’ve ever heard me make on the harmonica, “Oh that’s…great!” :joy:

But for me it was a THRILL. Then after a few days I’m like, “Hey I’m getting the (6), I wonder if I can get the (5)?” I try. Fail. Fail Fail. Try again. Fail. Try again… “Ok, well maybe the (4)?” Fail. Fail. And then a horrific sound, much worse than the tone of the (6), pools out. “Ok, it sounds like $%#@, but at least I’m doing. it.”

A few days after that, I finally managed to get the (5) to pop out once, sounding utterly horrific.

Then I had an “aha!” moment, as I was reminded that this is the same kind of feeling that students who are earlier on their journey exploring the harmonica are experiencing trying to get single notes, or trying to get draw bends for the first time, or trying to get blow bends for the first time, or tongue-blocking, or whatever the new technique is that they’re trying to learn:


Thrill, Agony, Thrill, Agony. Rinse and Repeat. I like to think I’m a pretty empathetic guy, but going through this process just opened my heart in a visceral way. It is very humbling, and puts a big demand on our patience to learn new technique.

Fast forward a month to present day, and I can now play the (4) (5) and (6) overblows somewhat consistently, maybe 80% or 90% of the time. But I CAN’T really play them with good TIME or with good TONE much of the time.

When I go to play an overblow there’s always a short pause, as if I’m asking myself, “Am I gonna be able to do it this time?” It’s almost like a hiccup. LOL.

BUT I’m enjoying the journey. I’ve been through this before and I trust the formula of the 3 P’s:

Practice + Patience + Persistence = MAGIC.

AND I’m inspired to play more often, because there are more things that I can play now. Something will pop into my head and I’ll be like, “Ooohh, I could try and play that now!” And then I’ll run grab my harmonica and give it a whirl. It will probably sound forced at best, or I’ll just fall flat on my face trying, at worst, BUT I’m having FUN as I’m EXPLORING new ideas of how I can express myself on the instrument with a new technique I’m working on mastering.

And that’s really the key, isn’t it? To fall in love with the PROCESS. Regardless of where we are in the journey, we’re blessed if we’re peering over some new horizon and catching a glimpse of new places that we can adventure to.

We have to love the growth and not just the destination in order to be able work the magic of the 3P’s formula. And if we can, then MAGIC is happening.

So lets all keep on GROWING together!



If I can add my two cents. Have you noticed a difference, in doing overblows, from one harmonica to another?
Just curious.

Hi @Delta7363,

Since overblows are not “built in” notes on a diatonic harp and they are very sensitive to reed gaps, it is almost always to some degree different from one harp to another (unless the harps are almost identically gapped). And the technique is different for different overblow notes on the same harp (for example for the 4 overblow and the 6 overblow). :point_left:

I also assume you are asking about different harps in the same key – because with each different key the exact muscle positions are different, with the differences becoming greater as the two harp keys move further apart. So the technique is most similar for two harps of the same key (such as C harps), then differs slightly for a C harp and a Bb harp, and becomes even more different for a C harp and a low F harp. So you can see, the difference depends on various factors. :crazy_face: :flushed:

– Slim :sunglasses:

Thanks for clarifying that for me, and others. I appreciate the information.

Take care …