Chromatic Blues Technique
- Subject: Chromatic Blues Technique
- From: "Scorcher" <s_c_o_r_c_h_e_r@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 22 Nov 2003 16:58:39 -0800
I just ordered & received a lesson book - the name I won't say,
because I don't have all positive things to say about it, and I'm NOT
qualified to criticize it.
That said, the book is aimed at players who want to move to chromatic
from the diatonic - hey, sounds like the PERFECT lesson plan for me,
right? I've been listening a lot lately to some of the well-known
"chromatic monsters", and I want to see if I can "get a little of
First, I put the included CD in (who needs to read? ;-) ), and
listened to about half of it. The instructor has the skills, that's
for sure. The disc progresses rapidly through various examples - a bit
too rapidly if you're just coming in "cold", but, in all fairness,
that's not how it's supposed to be used.
So, I opened the book, while previewing the disc.
First thing I notice is that mostly he's playing in D. I look again at
the blurb...yup, it says it's for intermediate-to-advanced players
(OK, that ain't me BUT...) - says so right here. I guess "the other
keys" must be covered later on in the book. See, I'm thinkin' I need
to play in more keys than D (which I still think of as 3rd
position)...huh - I guess other keys will be covered in later
Looking through the book I confirm it: All the stuff in this book is
in D ("3rd position") - no C or G. Oh, man, I'm playing a LOT in G,
and beginning to work on C. Playing in 3rd position just seems
like.....cheating. I mean, you can do that on a diatonic, right?
Next problem I run into is: the book says that the front of the
Harmonica should be tilted DOWN (about 30 degrees)in front, to
facilitate tongue-blocking. Now, I don't have any trouble TBing with
"my normal" embouchure - have you ever heard of this tilting strategy?
The book seems to be advocating TBing octaves (a 3-hole block with 5
holes in your mouth, on chrom) with the END or maybe even the TOP of
the tongue (not entirely clear from the text) - I've been TBing
octaves with the BOTTOM of my tongue on chrom - am I right or wrong?
Next problem: holding (cupping) the harmonica. I'll be frank - I've
really been obsessing over this part of my technique lately, because I
know it's CRITICAL for a good amplified sound, no two ways about it. I
have a really good cupping position with my diatonics, and I expected
this book to "open it up for me" in terms of how to cup a chromatic
with a mic. I have semi-large-ish hands, so I can ALMOST (but not
quite) cup a 64 chromatic air-tight with a bullet. I expected to learn
a secret here. I'm pretty dependent on effective use of cupping for
part of my amplified "sound", so it's important to me to get it RIGHT
with a chromatic.
Just to explain, when I say "air-tight", I mean AIR-TIGHT. Your breath
makes the flesh on the inside of your palms MOVE. TIGHT.
Nothing else is acceptable, IMO when we're talking "compression". (OK,
there's times when I don't want a "fully-compressed" tone for the sake
of the music - lots of times, in fact - but I'm talking here about the
optimum technique for the maximum effect.)
Critique my technique for me, please:
I set the harmonica on TOP of my left hand, left forefinger, middle
finger & thumb gripping the back of the cover. The web of my hand
between thumb & forefinger is against the back of the harmonica. A
little bit (really just the very tip) of the bass end of the
harmonica's cover is exposed -not quite "airtight". The bottom of the
palm of my right hand (by my wrist) is placed against the lower part
of my left thumb. This puts my right thumb on the back part of the
lower cover (high-end), pointing to the right. My right hand (except
for my forefinger) is pretty closed-up, so that the inside of my right
middle-finger is against the back of the harmonica
on the high end, and the rest of my right hand wraps over my left
This gives me a fairly good seal (not QUITE air-tight) on the back of
the harmonica, positions it toward the right side of my mouth, allows
me to use my right cheek to seal the MP, and enables me to work the
button with my right forefinger. It's not perfect, but I'm still
working on it.
Well, when I saw the photos in the book- they show both ends of the
harmonica hanging out of his hands, right thumb gripping OVER holes
12-13 (!!) and recommend using your RIGHT THUMB for the button!
(I was really appalled to see this.)
After going through the book, I'm starting to think that I may have to
resort to some "mechanical (or electronic) crutch" to play amplified
with the tone I want. I've got to find a way to get an airtight seal
on this puppy. (If you think a diatonic can "honk" with *high
compression* -you ain't heard NUTTIN' 'till you've compressed a
chromatic and honked one of those big chords, or an octave, or even a
long, bellowing bend.) Maybe I'm making too much of a "fringe"
technique, but, after all, chromatic blues is amplified, played thru a
mic & an amp, right? So it seemed to me there must be some "secret"
about how to get a super fat sound, and control "the (feedback)
beast". I thought that there was going to be some "top secret hand
position" to get a monster seal on the harmonica. I guess (as someone
has said about Piazza), that sound must be more equipment dependent
than I realized. Well, I'm still working on it - there has to be some
way to get the sound I want - I guess it's just up to me to find it.
Anyway, there are lots of great playing examples & soundbites &
instruction in the package - really well put together, and undeniably
the instructor has "the goods" ( - especially diatonic techniques), as
demonstrated by the CD. In fact, this book uses the diatonic a LOT in
it's teaching examples (which seems like the wrong strategy in a
chromatic instruction book, to me).
I'm not saying that there's no useful information here, I guess I just
thought I was gonna get a key to the city. ;-) Have any of y'all
purchased an instruction book (or lessons) that just didn't seem to
have what you were looking for? Anyone have any suggestions on lesson
books specifically for chromatic blues players? This seems to be a
pretty occult sub-genre of harmonica playing - not a lot of "regular"
chrom players seem to be willing (or able) to divulge anything about
using a bullet & amp, and not a lot of chromatic Blues players seem
willing to "give it up". (Never seen a book from Piazza, Clarke, etc.)
So how about it - are any of you list-members "shit-hot" on the
chromatic through an amp? Care to give up any of your "tone secrets",
practice strategies, learning resources, etc.?
Maybe I'll just have to go down to the crossroads....
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