What exactly is an overblow?

Hello. I am familiar with draw bends and few other techniques, but what exactly is an overblow? Do you blow harder into the instrument to create a bend type note? Are there any good examples of artists playing overblows to learn from?

1 Like

Hello @peg_T,
I’ll show you an overblow on one of my own improvised songs.
I play it with my Hohner Golden Melody in the key of G.
From 00:58 you can hear the steam engine whistle as an overblow on +8’.
Take a look at the attached graphic using the example of a G-Harp.

Learning to overblow is, as many write, much more difficult than draw bends. I’ve started with the high notes to learn it, but it still lacks stability at times.
This might look familiar to you from the draw bends?

There are players who take years to learn it.
The playing technique is basically the same as with the draw bends, except that you have to exhale in a differentiated manner.

There are bound to be tips from other players. Astrid wishes you a lot of fun :woman_in_lotus_position:.


Hi @peg_T

Let’s start with the most misunderstood thing about overblows (and overdraws as well): you do not blow harder (or draw harder) to get the resulting bend !! Doing so risks damaging your harp and also developing bad playing habits. :point_left:

To explain what an overblow is, we need to recognize that the terminology (“overblow”) is very unfortunate, because an overblow is simply a form of blow bending, but does not involve more force when blowing, as its unfortunate name might suggest.

Most serious harp players know that it is possible do a blow bend for the holes 8, 9 and 10 (also 7, but that blow bend is not needed, because it gives the same note as -7). It is not as easy for most players to do a blow bend when compared to a draw bend – but it is relatively easy to learn compared to an overblow bend !!

We also need to rehash some details about the reeds and notes found on a Richter tuned blues harp (the “standard” type of harp sold almost everywhere). If you pay attention and play each hole carefully as a blow note, and then as a draw note, you should be able to hear that for the holes 1-6 (inclusive) the pitch of a hole’s blow note is lower than the pitch of its draw note. This is very important in what follows later below.

However, for the holes 7-10 (inclusive) the pitch of the hole’s blow note is higher than the pitch of its draw note !!

Without going into the mechanical physics of bending, I now will simply tell you that there are two types of bends you can play when blowing: one type is only possible for the holes 7-10 and is commonly called the blow bend. The blow bend on one of these holes results (when done correctly) in a note that has its pitch a half-step lower than the unbent blow note for that hole. The usual tab used for these blow bends is, for example, +8’ or +9’ (for hole 10 two blow bends are possible: +10’ and +10", the latter of which is a half-step lower in pitch than the note +10’).

The other type of bends you can learn to play when blowing (although they are quite difficult and often require adjusting the harp’s reeds to play them at all) are only possible for holes 1-6 and are commonly called an overblow (some call it an overblow bend). The result (when played correctly) is a note whose pitch is a full-step higher than the normal blow note in that hole (it is also a half-step higher than the pitch of the normal draw note in that hole). The usual tab for an overblow is, for example, +1o or +4o etc.

Really skilled players (Howard Levy is the best example) can bend these overblow notes even higher than I just indicated. Most players can eventually learn to overblow, but the result is very often not accurate (pitch is too high or not high enough) or very unstable or only sometimes playable (which makes playing them “on stage” a hit-or-miss affair) – and for this reason many professionals never or almost never use them.

I will not delve into overdraws (possible for holes 7-10), as they are even more difficult and almost always require setting up the reeds in a specific way in order to play them.

Artists who regularly use overblows, blow bends and overdraws: Howard Levy and Jason Ricci are good ones for you because they are not only skilled but they use them frequently (especially Howard Levy).

– Slim :sunglasses:


Despite the name, overblows are not caused by blowing harder. Overblows are typically described as “reverse bending”. Meaning you use your draw bending technique on the blow notes to raise the pitch. There’s also a technique called overdraws where you use your blow bending technique on the upper draw notes (holes 7-10). If you want to hear overblowing at its finest, check out my friend Todd Parrott. He applies overblowing and overdrawing to a Terry McMillan-like style of playing to sound more expressive on the higher register. If you want to listen to overblows in a more chromatic situation, check out Howard Levy.

Thank you. I will check him out.

1 Like

Thank you for taking the time to describe how it works. It sounds complicated and I guess I will understand it more if I see a demonstration and can hear it being done.


Thank you, Astrid. The overblow is on the high notes of your train video Isn’t it? Now that I have heard it, makes it more clear.


Hello @peg_T,
Yes, as I wrote above, my overblow is +8’, which is a Bb.
I blow the 8 channel with feeling and look for the tone by guiding the rolled tongue along the palate towards the teeth. Not by force, emotionally :slightly_smiling_face:.
The same goes for channel +9 and +10’ and + 10".


Just to make things more confusing: that which Astrid @AstridHandbikebee63 is doing (+8’) is most commonly called a “blow bend”. Blow bends are played on holes +7 (although that is then the same note as -7), +8, +9 and +10.

For the holes 1-6 there are no blow bends, but there you get the “overblow” notes.

This is not a stupid, trivial naming difference, because the resulting notes are: lower for blow bends but higher for overblows.

– Slim :sunglasses:


Hello @Slim, you explained that very well! I just passed the practical exam :woman_shrugging::joy:.

Greetings Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:


Thank you all for clarifying how this is done and where, and how it would sound. Got something new to practice