Re: [Harp-L] Music First, Harmonica Second

In a message dated 8/30/09 7:37:05 AM, wolfkristiansen@xxxxxxxx writes:
> "As I read submissions to harp-l, I often see opinions that are couched 
> in terms about harmonica technique but are really about taste in music, or 
> are heavily informed by that taste."
The short answer might be: Most people on the list are blues types. What 
else are they going to reference?

Long, long, long answer ...
Connecting technique to genres of music (taste in music) is often the best 
way to describe the usefulness of a technique. For example, some techniques 
lend themselves better to blues and jazz than they do to melodic or 
classical -- Mozart, Bach etc simply because the timbre of bent notes and overblows 
distracts from the music.

(Don't misinterpret. I know of possibly a half dozen   benders and 
overblowers who might be able to perform "classical" or melodic music but most 
people end up sounding like a duck choir -- or those barking dogs "singing" 
Jingle Bells. )

Just because it is possible to play a musical composition or tune with 
certain techniques doesn't mean it is feasible or even pleasant to hear. 

Ultimately, when somebody describes a technique, the next question is: 
What's it good for? What can it be used for? 

When somebody remarks that a certain brand of harmonica works great for 
blues, this does not mean the player is raising the flag for blues. Only that 
it works good for blues. It may work country or jazz or standards -- but his 
experience is blues. Somebody else with experience in another genre needs to 
speak about how that technique works for that genre.

I happen to belong to the group (small minority?) that believes bent notes 
should be hit on pitch from the getgo. For me, this means no sliding up to 
pitch or sliding down to. 

Others, possibly emulating pedal steel guitar, think bent notes should be 
started below pitch and raised to pitch. Some people use "hand vibrato" on 
every single note. I find both these techniques irritating after a very short 
period of time.

Some think that overblows are just as good as "given notes" -- plain notes 
from unaltered reeds that are "tuned into the harmonica." After about 20 
years of listening up close and personal, I am of the opinion that mostly, 
overblows don't work very well because the "timbre is off."

But overblows usually don't work in sweet or melodic music. They work in 
blues and jazz, but not much else where a sustained note is needed (long notes 
in harmonica talk).

As one of the more versatile players on this list might say: When most of 
the notes in a tune start to sound unmusical from bends and overblows, it's 
time pick up a harmonica in another key.

In terms of chromatic, most of the techniques are not discussed very widely 
on this list. After talking about tongue switching (tongue block left, 
switch to tongue block right), and dealing with the double C's (solo tuned 
chromes go CEG CC EG CC EGC etc)   the discussion drops off fast.

Bending notes on the chrome -- a hallmark of most all-time great chromatic 
players from the Golden Age down to the few remaining -- is rarely mentioned 
either as a technique for inflection or facilitating a note faster than 
using the slide. This may because of dearth of chromatic players on this list, 
lack of knowledge on the chrome players on the list or the staunch view of 
many chromatic players that they play chromatic; therefore they don't need to 
bend. Of course, they will never sound like their idols WITHOUT bending. 
But nevermind.

Also never addressed "chord" vamping that all the old-time chromatic 
players did. Either to gloss over a passage too difficult to play or to cover up 
the fact that there is only one major chord on a chrome. A chromatic player 
pointed out to me during SPAH that the diatonic only has two chords (for 
vamping in tongue block). What he didn't mention is that the chrome only has ONE 
chord -- the blow chord and just about any combination on the draw except 
octaves is discordant, does not go together, work, fit or whatever with the 
note(s) --- because it is not even wrong.

(I have also noted over the years that even the so-called all chromatic all 
the time lists don't discuss any of these topics of bending and discordant 
vamping nor do any of the 10 or so chromatic books I've purchased over the 
years. SO this above is not surprising.)

This reminds me of people who bemoan that fact that movie critics and book 
critics are passing judgment on movies and books -- do these people thing 
they are better than the rest of us? The audacity of them passing judgment! (I 
say: would they rather have a mechanic telling about a movie or book? Or 
somebody who actually knows something about what he's talking about?)

In all the articles I wrote over the years in American Harmonica 
Newsmagazine, my aim was to explain what was going well enough so that somebody 
reading my article could make an intelligent decision of whether to check out the 
book or album under discussion. 

 Just remember, if somebody says a certain harp brand or tuning works great 
for blues, country, jazz, classical, he is not saying blues or country is 
the ONLY thing to play. Just that in his experience, it works on this harp.

Eschew obsfuscation -- that's my job

Phil Lloyd


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