Re: If I could do it all over...

Bill Houle wrote:
> 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 started playing harp when I was 14 years old, in 1972, more or less 
seriously over the decades.  About a year ago, after fiddling about 
for the previous year, I got serious about learning to add overbends 
to my playing.  I don't have a lot of time to spend playing each day, 
what with a day job and a couple of small children at home.  I 
generally can squeeze about 30 minutes of playing time out of a day.  
I play when I'm making dinner or cleaning up afterwards or when I 
have the kids in the bathtub in the evening (my wife wonders why I 
volunteer to bathe the kids every night!).  

Like Bill, I thought learning overbends was going to be more than I'd 
want to take on.  But last Christmas I started trying to learn a tune 
for our harmonica club's Christmas party, a major keyed melody that 
*required* a five overblow in the second octave.  I struggled with 
that melody for two weeks, carefully tweaking the harp again and 
again to make the overblow easier, trying to learn to hit it in 
pasing, soliciting advice from the online harp community on what I 
could do to make it easier.  In the end, I moved to a melody maker 
tuned harp for the performance, but I had laid the groundwork for 

Into the new year I worked more on tweaking harps for overbends and 
working on the technique.  In March, I used overbends in a public 
performance for the first time, and fortunately it was a very kind 
audience who didn't whince at my sqeaking fits and starts.  I also 
started listening to a lot more players who use overblows in their 
work.  I'm not trying to learn to play in every key on one harp, I 
just want to be able to find some of those "missing notes" that make 
a I-IV-V a little richer in each octave.  I started stealing licks 
from Jason Ricci and Adam Gussow and even a couple from Carlos del 
Junco.  I'll leave the Howard Levy stuff to...  Howard Levy.

After nine months or so, I consider myself a reasonably proficient 
overblower, provided my harps are set up properly.  I don't wish I 
had done anything differently.  The style of music I want to play 
hasn't changed a bit, and the years I spent playing sans overbends -- 
especially the past six years -- has been a great foundation on which 
to base this technique.  Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of 
work to do, but I'm through the 20% of the effort that generates 80% 
of the results.  

Nailing the overbends has done a lot for my confidence in my ability 
to learn at this stage in my life (I'm 45).  I'm now slowly working 
on tongue blocking (I can't seem to make myself NOT play an octave 
when my tongue touches the harp!).  It may take me a year or more to 
get a reasonable tongue block embouchure (and longer to play it in 
public), but I'm confident I can get there, 30 minutes a day.

> 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. 

My two cents is "don't give up on yourself".  Just when you think 
you've done all you can do, you'll surprise yourself!

- -tim

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