Re: Harp Experience & Lessons

GREENWAY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
 >  In about five short minutes he [Paul Oscher] made it perfectly clear
 > to me that I was never going to get that Chicago blues harp sound 
 > unless I started tongue blocking. 

Early in '94 I initiated a harp-l discussion on tongue-blocking and tone.
There were several posts on the subject, none very satisfying to me.
Kim's comment encourages me to try again.

Let's distinguish between sound and tone. The overall sound a player
gets is a combination of many things, only one of which is the palette
of tone that the player employs.  As Kim said in a later post, a lot
of fat Chicago sounds are really tongue blocked octaves.  In such a
case it's not so much the tone of the two notes as the fact that there
are two of them, an octave apart, that gives the sound its distinctive
quality. To get an octave you block the holes in between with your
tongue.  So, to get that particular Chicago *sound* you must employ
playing techniques that include tongue-blocking.

What interests me is to understand the factors that determine the
*tone*, or timbre, of an individual note.  This is a matter of the
distribution of overtones that comprise the note.  Sugar Blue is
quoted in Mississippi Saxophone as saying "tone is all in the hands".
Others say it's in the embouchure, while the compulsive quest for gear
is often just an expression of lust for a certain profile of
overtones.  So, we have hands, mouth, and gear.  Everyone would agree
that each of these plays a part. Still, two things continue to perplex
me: (1) apart from the playing techniques such as octaves and tongue
lifting that are achieved with tongue blocking, what is real effect of
the tongue blocking embouchure on the distribution of frequencies that
make up the timbre of the instrument? and (2) what technique will
enable one to arbitrarily subtract the high overtones from the profile
of frequencies, and boost the primary frequency, which is a technical
description of making the tone F A T .  This thin-FAT-thin variation
marks some of the best blues playing, but I mention one particular
example: Carey Bell from his "Harp Slinger" CD, the renditions of
"Last Night" and "Blues With A Feeling".

Maybe Kim would expand on what it was, specifically, that Paul Oscher
did that convinced him to make tongue blocking an integral part of his
playing technique.  Was it merely to get access to playing techniques
like tongue lifting, or was it because it's a determining factor in


Definition of a serious harp player: One who will go to any extreme to
find out what's happening inside someone else's mouth.

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