Re: Bass Harmonica

Brian Pellerin asks about bass harmonica.

You're right, it does take a lot of breath. it's an all-blow
double-reed (octave-tuned) instrument.

It seems to have been designed to play oom-pah bass lines, the kind
where you play the root note of the chord on the first beat, then the
5th note of the chord on the third beat (of four), like C then G for a
C chord. In between the notes, you take a breath on the second and
fourth beats.

Having said that, there are some cats who can really get around on the
bass harmonica. They can conserve breath, or take quick between-note
breaths, and still play a consistent line.

I'd start off playing along with tunes where you can play root-5th bass
lines under simple chord progressions - some country-western tunes
would be good candidates, along with various other types of folksy
material. Once you feel you have a resonable hadnle on root-5th
playing, try 1-3-5 lines - like C(1) E(3) G(5) under a C major chord.
Then, try doing stuff that adds the the 6th - C-E-G-A C-A-G-E - the old
ewalking line, for instance.

One thing that surprised me talking to expert bass harmonica players,
was that most of them pucker, even though most of their note sequences
involve leaps of several holes. I've always tongue blocked so that I
could play one note out of the left side, then the next note out of the
right side without having to move very far.

Getting good resonance is key with the bass harmonica. Blowing hard
win't help it play loudly, so you really have to find a way to use your
body like the body of an acoustic guitar. I love the feel of a good
bass note resonating in my gut. Sometimes I pick up a bass harmonica
first thing in the morning and play a nice low note - it feels so
eupeptic (opposite of dyspeptic).

One thing I find about getting good resonance over the range of the
bass harmonica is that what works down low is very different from what
works up high - so different that if you play a low note using the
resonant configuration for a high note, it may not sound at all. This
take practice to integrate so that you can move freely through the
range of the instrument and get a full sound overall.

Aside from the breath required, the most challenging physical aspect of
the bass is its double decks. The lower deck plays the notes of C
major, while the upper deck pays the notes of F# major (on Hohners -
Huanfs have a C# scale). This combinaton of keys means you can play any
root-fifth commbination without having to jump frm one deck to the
other (with a C/C# combination, you have to jump to play B-F#, while
you don't on the C/F# combination).

Get used to playing each deck independently. By spending time hanging
out on the upper F# deck, you won't feel like it's alien territory
every time you have to go there.

Make use of the "choice notes" - the notes that can be played on either
deck, which are B and F.

For instance, some kind of tune in E minor would be a good way to start
deck switching. The E minor and A minor chords both lie on the C deck,
while the B major chord lies on the F# deck. The B note is part of both
the E and the B chords. The 2nd note in the Eminor scale is an F#,
which lies on the F# deck, while the other notes of the E natural minor
scale fall on the C deck.

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