Which Holes Can You Bend on Harmonica?

I was talking inside the Beginner to Boss course with someone going through the Bending Module, and realized this is a really great subject for ALL harmonica players to be aware of, so I thought I’d make a post.

I debated about whether to write this in the Theory topic, or the Technique topic, but this post is really just a matter of thinking about how the harmonica is layed out, and why you can bend some notes and not others.

You can bend blows on holes 8, 9, and 10, but you can’t bend blow on holes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Conversely, you can only bend draws on holes -1, -2, -3, -4, -6 , but not on the -7, -8, -9, or -10.

The reason for this is that you can only bend a note down when the opposite reed for the same hole is a lower pitch. So holes 1-6 draws are higher than blows , and that’s why they can be bent down. On holes 7-10 the blows are higher than the draws , so they can bend down.

Last thing to mention on the subject: The reason that you may notice that -5′ is missing (even though -5 is higher than 5) and 7′ is missing (even though 7 is higher than -7) is because the interval between the blow and the draw on those holes is only a half-step apart. All the rest of the holes, the notes are a full step apart or more.

So -5 and 7 can be bent down a tiny bit, but not a full half-step.

This is good stuff to think about and become aware of.

For more on this subject, check out the What’s Your Experience Learning Draw Bends thread.

Lmk your thoughts and questions, if any.

Rock on,
Luke

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Hi Luke @Luke,

Good post and totally accurate for standard diatonic Richter blues harps (such as the ones usually found on sale by Lee Oskar, Hohner, Seydel, Suzuki, etc). “Specialty” harps with different reed layouts can result in significant exceptions to the holes that are “blow-bendable” and “draw-bendable”.

Consider the harps using the modified reed layouts pioneered by Brendan Power (e.g. the PowerBender and PowerDraw models). The logic and physics still hold concerning blow bends and draw bends, but the reed layouts are different and result in different holes being “blow-bendable” or “draw-bendable”. If you want, I will write up the basically same post as yours but for these harps.

Also, valving (which can be purchased, but is much less widely known or appreciated) changes everything on harps – even on the standard diatonic Richter blues harps. I can also (if you desire) write up a similar post for these changes.

Regards,
– Slim

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Right on Slim! Yeah I’ve own some valved harps like the Hohner XB-40 and I used to love them for various purposes, but I’ve always ended up back with good old standard 10-hole / 20-reed harmonicas.

I do however (as you know) love the world of alternate tunings, and (as you know) I’m very excited about checking out BP’s tunings. I’d LOVE to see a post like this that reflects the particularities of each of those harmonica tunings!

Rock on,
Luke

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For an extension of Luke’s @Luke original post, which deals with standard diatonic Richter blues harps, here is basically the same sort of Theory post, but now dealing with the PowerDraw blues harp developed by Brendan Power and sold by him and by Seydel (and possibly others?).

The tone table for the PowerDraw harp looks like the following (using a C harp for clarity since most people know the tone table for standard diatonic Richter blues harps in the key of C):

Blow note:  C  E  G  C  E  G  A  C  E  A

Hole used:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Draw note:  D  G  B  D  F  A  B  D  G  C

A quick examination of this tone table and you will immediately see that for the holes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 there is no difference to the standard Richter blues harp. This means that everything that Luke @Luke wrote concerning bends for the first six holes (in the original post in this thread) applies also for the PowerDraw harp for these first six holes.

However, for holes 7, 8, 9, 10 the blow note is always lower than the draw note – this seems at first odd, but it has various advantages.

For these four holes at the upper end, all holes can be draw bent !!

In hole 7 draw you can do a half-step bend to the important Bb (which, on a standard Richter blues harp requires the difficult to master overblow technique on hole 6 blow).

In hole 8 draw you can do another half-step bend to the also important Db (almost impossible for mere mortals to play).

In hole 9 draw you can do a half-step bend to F# and a whole-step bend to F.

In hole 10 draw you can also do (although this is not so easy, I admit) a half-step bend to B and a whole-step bend to Bb.

On the PowerDraw harps there are no blow bends available – but I actually see that as an advantage because I now have some normally very difficult notes at the high end that are relatively easy draw bends – and all blues harpists can do draw bends in their sleep! :grin:

There are various advantages to the PowerDraw harp that you can read about on Brendan Power’s web site (for example, for those who are able to overblow, overblows can be done on every hole – if the reed gaps have been properly adjusted).

Regards,
– Slim

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Great post @Slim! Thanks a bunch. Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas?

Aloha,
Luke

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