Re: Tremolo (vibrato)

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Jim writes

>Hello, I am a new harp player (6 months of learning that the tongue is
>hard to control even when I'm NOT talking) and new to this list. I'm
>very pleased to have been directed to it from someone at music.bluenote.
>I'd like to ask what players have found to help them with getting the
>throat tremelo (is that spelled correctly?) going. I have listened to
>one instructional tape that advises to start with draw 2 notes in
>short duration rising in speed. I've lsitened, I've tried, and I can
>tell it isn't there yet. I know that practice, practice is needed. I'm
>just wondering if there are any other techniques or exercises that
>could help me. Thanks for your time.

  First off Jim - welcome to the HARP-L list.

  Tremolo is the correct spelling - OK. I'm not a good speller, just have a WP 
  with a built in spel-cheker. I think the correct term here is vibrato. Your   
  question reminded me of something I posted a while back which may help.
  Sorry about the long post but With the number of new readers on HARP-L I 
  thought it might be worth repeating portions of it -- Especially since there   
  are recurring questions on "bending", "vibrato" "tone" etc.

  Note to new players: I believe that you have to be able to play a clean 
  single note before you can effectively develop other techniques & skills
  like NOTE BENDING (not addressed here) and VIBRATO - even though those are 
  probably the sounds that turned you on to harmonica in the first place.


Excerpts from: SHORT HARP TIPS (Getting Started on the Diatonic Harmonica)
 -- This article appears in full on the harmonica gopher --


Playing a single note comes with great difficulty for some. Relax, you may be 
trying too hard. Embouchure (the method of placing the lips and tongue to a 
wind instrument) must be precise yet supple. There are two methods prescribed 
and much debate over which one is proper. Method #1, Tongue Blocking, is where 
you place your lips over four holes and block the air flow to the left with 
your tongue, allowing air to flow into only the rightmost hole to produce a 
single note. Method #2, Pucker, is where you cover only one hole with your lips 
as though you were going to whistle. The tongue does not touch the harmonica. I 
suggest that beginners use the method they find easiest and most comfortable. 
However, I strongly urge you to learn both methods as you develop. Method #1, 
Tongue Blocking, seems to produce a better (or at least different) tone. You 
may or may not be able to hear the difference. Tongue blocking lends itself to 
playing double stops (3rds, 5ths, and octaves) by blocking out unwanted notes 
with the tongue and allowing air to flow past the tongue on either side to play 
more than one note at a time. These are more advanced techniques you will want 
to develop later. CRUTCH: Blow a mouthfull of notes and tilt the harmonica 
upward while still blowing (relax). This will produce a clean, single note. Not 
the prescribed method, but it proves that it can be done. Some players do tilt 
their harp upward.


Producing a clear, pretty tone on the harmonica requires proper embouchure and 
breathing. Before you worry too much about tone you should master your 
technique of getting a single note consistently across the full range of the 
harmonica (See PLAYING A SINGLE NOTE). If your tone is weak try this. While 
playing a note, pinch your nose shut with your fingers. If the note suddenly 
gets louder you are letting air pass through your nose. Pinching the nose 
forces more air to go through the harmonica, producing a louder tone. No air 
should be passing through your nose while you're playing, save it for the 
harmonica. This is where breath control is important. You will eventually learn 
to keep a reserve of air in your lungs and actually be doing most of your 
breathing through the harmonica.


Embouchure also affects tone. Tone is affected by the way you hold (shape) your 
tongue, the way you blow or draw through the instrument and the way you 
position your jaw. Dropping the lower jaw opens the air passage and allows air 
to flow more freely giving a rounder tone. Try dropping your lower jaw while 
playing a note and hear the difference. You should be bringing the air from way 
down deep. The force (power) comes from the diaphragm. Remember how it feels 
when you are fogging a mirror or your glasses; or how it feels when you are 
blowing the last few breaths into a large balloon? This is how it should feel 
when you are blowing into your harmonica properly. Blow hard through a straw. 
This is how it should NOT feel. Now, blow hard with your mouth open wide. This 
is how it SHOULD feel when you are playing the harmonica properly.


Vibrato, the slight lowering and raising of the pitch of a note, also affects 
tone. Throat vibrato is what vocalists use. Well controlled, light throat 
vibrato can produce a very pretty tone. Heavier vibrato can be used for 
emphasis on a note or passage. Vibrato should not be over done and it probably 
should not be used at all on some songs. Of course this is a matter of personal 
taste. Throat vibrato should not be done too fast. (see METHODS/VIBRATO).


HAND VIBRATO (the simplest method, not really a vibrato)
This is easy to master yet it can be effective. Many pros use it. The hands 
form a "cup" or sound chamber around the harmonica. (See HOLDING the 
HARMONICA). Vibrato is achieved by opening and closing the hands. If your hands 
form a good seal around the harmonica you can get vibrato by just wavering your 
bottom two fingers on the left hand. Vibrato should be smooth and not too fast 
and should not be over done. You can get vibrato by moving the right hand as 

TONGUE VIBRATO (also simple)
This method is also fairly simple to learn but should be used sparingly. Tongue 
vibrato is achieved by swelling and relaxing the tongue which changes the air 
flow. Say the words yoy, yoy, yoy. Try it without the harmonica, you can feel 
your tongue change. Now try it with the harmonica. Vibrato can be used with 
blow & draw notes. 

THROAT VIBRATO (most difficult)
This is the most difficult method to learn and also the most desirable. This is 
how good players achieve that beautiful tone. It can be used constantly yet 
subtly for good tone and emphasized for a pretty or "schmaltzy" effect on 
certain passages. It can be combined with hand vibrato. Heavy "schmaltzy" 
vibrato sometimes sounds pretty but should be used sparingly, it too can be 

Throat Vibrato is really controlled by the diaphragm, however, you feel it 
mostly in your throat. That's where it seems to come from.

Here is an exercise you can do daily. It in itself will not give you vibrato 
but it will exercise your diaphragm, improve your breath control and also 
improve your speed playing. (1) Take a deep breath. (2) let it all out. (3) 
Take a deep breath again. (4) Now, while keeping the lungs inflated, exhale and 
inhale very rapidly as long as you can. You are exhausting and replenishing 
your air rapidly while maintaining an air reserve in your lungs. (Don't do this 
too long at first as it will probably make you dizzy - practice this daily and 
gradually increase the length of time you do it). The rapid exhale and inhale 
is controlled with your diaphragm. Your chest should not be puffing in and out 
but you should be able to see and feel your stomach (lower abdomen) moving in 
and out rapidly. Kind of like a dog panting. In fact, now that I think about 
it, it's exactly like a dog panting.


Example #1 - Play a single note at a slow tempo while tapping your foot in 
time, play one note per tap. Now play two notes per tap, (keep the same tempo). 
Next, while keeping the foot tap constant, play three notes per tap. Finally, 
smooth out the note so that it becomes a wavering sound instead of three 
separate notes. To get the vibrato you must flat the note slightly. It is the 
repeated lowering and raising of pitch which produces vibrato. This exercise 
should be done in one breath. You can think of it as playing a half note, then 
two quarter notes, then triplets and finally a constant, smoothed out, wavering 
tone. Practice the exercise below.


Tap->  ........ 1 ........   ........ 2 ........   ........ 3 ........

Play->  Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa     Taaaaaaa Taaaaaaa     Taaaa Taaaa Taaaa

Value->     half note         1/4 note 1/4 note       tri - pl -  et      


(Without the harmonica) Say AHhhhhhhhhh. Now chop up the AHhhhh with little 
coughs. AHhAHhAHh etc. Practice this while exhaling and inhaling. This will 
probably make you choke or gag and cause your eyes to water, especially on the 
inhale. If it does, you're doing it right. Gradually increase the speed of the 
"cough" and concentrate on smoothing it out and eliminating the cough sound. 
(Maybe this is where the term throat vibrato comes from because you can feel it 
there). As you smooth out and eliminate the cough sound you can feel that it is 
your diaphragm that is doing the work. Now try this while playing a note on the 
harmonica. It is easiest in the low register, high notes are harder to get 
vibrato on, so start out with the low notes and you will see (hear) results 
quicker. An E (blow 5) and F (draw 5) on a 10 hole are probably the easiest to 
get vibrato on. Notes lower or higher come with a little more difficulty. 
Eventually you should be able to get vibrato throughout the range of the 
harmonica, then you will have good tone. Vibrato should not be too fast, 
moderate speed gives best results.

Experiment with both methods above. Find out which example works best for you 
and then practice daily. Good luck and good vibrato!

---end Short Harp tips---

Note: All the above applies to chromatic harmonica too.

                     Jack Ely          ely.j@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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