3 Hole Draw
Harp-l seems to have its seasons. Discussions of gear always
seem to be in season. At one time playing techniques got keen
attention, but lately, it seems, only beginer's playing techniques are
discussed. So, rather than bitch to myself about it, here's my
contribution -- a discussion of a demon that has spooked my own
playing for years.
If you play blues harp you know the three draw bend is hell.
Until you master it you're at a great disadvantage. When you play in
second position (cross harp) 3-draw is your means to the flat-third of
the scale. Blues without that note is blues-lite, an oxymoron. In
first position it's the flat-seventh and blues without that note is no
blues at all.
Why is it so hard? Let me lay down a few basics and invite
corrections and comment. Assume a C harp in second position, i.e.
cross harped to G.
o Three draw bend has three posibilities, 1/2 tone, whole
tone, and 1 1/2 tones -- Bb, A and Ab.
o Three draw plain, B natural, is the closing reed, i.e.
it's attached on the outside of the reed plate so that as
air is drawn into the hole the reed is sucked inside.
[Think of a door with hinges on the outside of the door
frame. If the door's ajar and you open the window on a
cold day, warm air rushes out the window and the door
o The G reed in the same hole acts as the opening reed on
drawn air. It's attached to the inside of its reed plate.
o Bending three draw entails shifting sound production from
the higher pitched, closing reed to the lower, opening
reed, a two whole-tone step in this case. The rule says
that the opening reed will vibrate at a pitch 1/2 tone
above its sound as a closing reed. Here we're talking about
getting the G reed to sound G# (Ab). By playing my C harp
in front of a mirror with the reed plates removed I have
observed that when the 3-draw is bent all the way to Ab
the B reed is vibrating only slightly and when I stop it
completely with my finger the Ab pitch of the note remains
o Getting the full bend down to Ab is not difficult, but it's
useless. How often do you want this note, except, perhaps,
as a passing tone enroute to an A?
I believe that to get either of these intermediate pitches, Bb
or A, you must keep the closing B reed moving, and I'm guessing that
you get the Bb by slowing the frequency of the B without getting the
other reed (the G) involved. The A must be produced by a combination
of the two reeds; it's harder than the Ab but not daunting. The Bb's
a bitch. The required mouth position is almost as hard to find as an
overblow. And what works in one key harp won't work on another.
The dominant characteristic of the mouth position of any bend
is the length of the air chamber formed in your mouth. With two whole
tones separating the two reeds almost any attenuation of the air
chamber dampens the closing B reed drastically while activating the
opening G reed. Pop! Ab. Damn! Constrast this with 2 draw bend,
where G is the closing draw reed and the E reed in the same hole is
the opening reed, a step of 1 1/2 tone, and, 4 draw bend, a one
whole-tone step from D to C. A two whole-tone gap is just too wide to
allow for an easy, smooth continuum from closing reed, through closing
and opening reed *together*, to opening reed sound production. One
experienced harp player told me "It took me 20 years of playing before
I could hit and hold a Bb consistently on C cross harp."
Now add a further handicap -- you're blocking, not puckering.
Without your tongue in free play you have even less control over the
shape and length of the air chamber. You have fewer muscles and less
meat to move around. Yet, I know it can be done because I hear it
coming from some of the notorious blockers. As an example I offer
Jerry Portnoy's playing on "Hootchie Coochie Man" on Clapton's "From
The Cradle". This is 1st position. The fact he is blocking I take
from Kim Field who describes Portnoy as a 100% tongue blocker.
How about you? Can you do it? How? Block or pucker? Where's
the meat? Which harps are easier and which are more difficult?
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