If I could do it all over...

Some of the recent overblow and jazz threads got me
thinking about this again. As a ?late bloomer? the
hurdle of adapting my technique to using overblows is
more than I want to tackle at the moment. In hindsight
I wished I had approached things differently right
from the beginning. I think a lot of the current books
plus the ?apparent? ease of picking up harp
unintentionally lead one down a path where overblows
become more of a problem than they need to be. And
unlearning ingrained habits is much harder than
getting it right the first time. 

I?m no expert by any means and have been serious about
harmonica for only 6 years. Just my opinion for those
who may be just picking up the harp, and fodder for
those older and wiser hands that may care to comment.
Also for those who want to stick to blues or folk or
rock this may not be relevant.  There is plenty of
territory to master there in any case. But for those
of you that may stray into more melodic or jazzier
territory on the diatonic maybe this will help.

For starters I would recommend trying to find a
teacher who knows how to use overblows. Probably not
that easy to find but worth getting off on the right
foot!  I can?t think of any wind instrument that one
can learn correctly without a teacher. With harmonica
it?s easy to be lured by the ability to start without
one but difficult later when attempting more
challenging techniques. Certainly was true in my case.
 If you can?t find a teacher I?d suggest getting
Howard Levy?s video on new directions for harmonica.
Seeing and hearing someone set up a harp and play the
chromatic scale finally got me over the hump to hit
the overblows. 

Second I would have approached learning standard blow,
draw and bent notes in a different way.  One of the
big issues with getting the overblows to sound as
consistent as the other notes has as much or more to
do with how the other notes are played.  I found
myself having to change to a softer more controlled
style after getting used to a hard blowing blues
approach. Right from the beginning I wished I had
learned to play softer and gotten used to having the
gaps tighter on the reeds. 

Third I would have ignored all the mystique around the
difficulty of doing overblows. It held me back from
even attempting them for a long time. There are
several steps that I suggest should be mastered as
rapidly as possible ? good tone on single straight
blow or draws notes, hitting the draw bends correctly,
hitting the blow bends correctly, then getting right
to overblows.  I think that way it will become more
natural to getting consistent tone across all the
notes. It also enables actually learning full scales
and chords the way the rest of the wind instruments do
it.  And practicing full scales and chords leads right
back into learning consistent tone across the harp.

There are of course other ways to skin this cat.
Chromatic is an obvious option but a much different
sound. Alternately tuned diatonics may be another
option. Seems like it may get confusing switching
between tunings, though. I?d be curious how others
have adapted to that and if it's an issue. I don?t
understand how valved diatonics work, but it seems to
be a path, as well as the yet to be released XB-40.  

So if I had to do it all over again I wish I had
started on overblows much earlier on the learning
curve. It is a technique that takes a lot of work to
master.  But a good start I think would greatly
increase the odds of success in this area. I don?t
usually stray into this territory on this list but
finally felt I had at least the minimum $0.02 bid to
throw on the table for this topic.


Bill H

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