ICCCH Episode 4-5: Harmonica Advanced Techniques
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
So these two episodes are focused on some harmonica advanced techniques! I don’t know if I’d ever get a chromatic harmonica and try these out myself but it’s still interesting to see what’s involved “behind the instrument”! (Also, this is unrelated but… have I mentioned how I love the intro music and video editing?)
The Secret of the Hidden Tongue Work
This is related to playing polyphonically on the harmonica. A personal note before the lesson notes: I’ve definitely played with a diatonic harmonica before and I think it’s actually rather difficult to play very specific notes intentionally. Especially if there are other notes/holes in between the ones you want. Typically, I always sounded like I was playing chords – C chords (CEG on blow) and some Dm6 or B half diminished chord (DFAB on draw) – since I didn’t know you could isolate notes. There’s probably a way to do it so let’s see!
1. Pucker and Tongue Block
Pucker: form the lip in the shape of a mouthpiece on the harmonica (like drinking from a straw)
Tongue Block: widening the lips to cover multiple harmonica holes, using the tongue to block targeted holes
Differences: the different mouth shape leads to subtle tonal differences
Pucker heard at 1:39 of video; Tongue Block can be heard around 1:42.
I found the Tongue Blocking technique produces a sound that is brighter, perhaps with more higher frequency data, resulting to something sounding more striking.
2. Double Stop
playing two holes at the same time (not just adjacent holes due to tongue block)
can play up to 6 holes blocking the middle 4 holes (up to intervals of 13ths!)
Up to 6 holes apart:
Examples of Double Stops with only Blow notes on a C Chromatic Harmonica
An aside on chords on the harmonica:
It’s possible to play chords on the harmonica without the tongue blocking the holes. But all chord components/notes have to be produced in the same category of playing – 1 of the following 4: Blow, Draw, Slide-Blow, Slide-Draw. On a C chromatic harmonica, these would include chords with the following notes by category:
Blow: C E G
C: C E G
Em6: E G (no B) C
Draw: D F A B
Dm: D F A
Bhalf-dim: B D F A
Slide-Blow: C# E# G#
C#: C# E# G#
Slide-Draw: D# F# A# B#
D#m: D# F# A#
B#half-dim: B# D# F# A#
I noticed there are some #enharmonic #equivalents between these different categories, which is neat to know as it means there are different ways to produce the same pitch! For example: an E#/F can be played via Slide-Blow or Draw, and a B#/C can be played via Slide-Draw or Blow.
3. Broken Chord: an advanced technique – requires simultaneous altering of the size of both the lips and tongue
4. Switch Corner – for musical passages with large leaps
- traditional method: stable lip width, moving tongue applying tongue-blocking technique
- alternate method (more effective): stable lip width, stable tongue (as a pivot, less mobile), moving hands (laterally) == much easier!
This means that “leapy” passages can be performed legato with ease, and harmonica players can also execute large leap tremolo effects.
Episode 5 coming here soon!
Episode 5 – Advanced Technique Vol. 2 [https://iccch.hkharmonica.org/online-resources]
Three Advanced Techniques of Harmonica
1. Trill: rapid alternation of adjacent notes (semitone or whole tone apart)
- not all trills are of the same difficulty. Some will require more coordination which is harder to sustain!
There are 2 types of semitone trills
i. by pressing the slider button, requires basic technique: slide control
ii. by alternating with the semitone above, requiring coordination between: inhale/exhales, lateral movement, slide control
There are 4 types of whole tone trills:
i. by lateral movement only
ii. by alternating inhale/exhales only
iii. by lateral movement with alternating inhale/exhales
iv. by lateral movement with alternating inhale/exhales, and slide control
2. Vibrato: can be created by hand, diaphragm, or tongue
Hand – there’s a bit of a wa-wa effect as the and prevents/allows more of the sound to diffuse in the air
Diaphragm – this sounded more like a tremolo to me with the wavering in amplitude. It seems similar to how vibrato is down on a flute!
Tongue – by alternating between a “normal” and bended note. I wonder how much you can bend the pitch with your tongue! 50 cents? a semitone?
3. Sound Effects - some other sounds harmonicas can make!
pressing the slide halfway – there’s a beating effect here? Definitely two close and and simultaneous pitches.
wow-wow effect – this seems like the wa-wa seen before using a hand vibrato – very expressive!
shake – a tremolo with tongue vibrato as above
abrupt dissonance chords – it may be just me but this didn’t sound very dissonant in the video – is it a rapid blow-draw alternation? It still seems possible to blow or draw multiple notes and press the slide halfway because there was certainly dissonance in the first effect!
tremolo – is this a faster form of tongue vibrato? The previous seemed like a very measured pulse, and perhaps this is the not-measured equivalent?
tremolo with E & G – this sounds very bluesy!