Re: [Harp-L] Practice Kit eg iphone software etc.

"Richard Hammersley" wrote:
<I use and like some ipad software and sometimes play harp through it, but while I use it for "woodshedding" - ie <trying out ideas, sounds etc - it is a very good idea to practice with the same kit you are actually going to <play through under concert conditions. Even differently set up harps do not play identically and if you add a <mic, amp and a few effects then you need to practice getting the sound you want from that exact kit rather than <making a blunder with the equipment mid solo. This is one of the reasons I play with minimal electronic <equipment. Another is that the temptation is there to mess about with kit seeking that ultimate sound, rather <than actually blowing harp. Your ultimate sound comes from you and the amplification rig is just ornamentation, <often cumbersome and unreliable ornamentation at that. Of course nowadays hardly anyone plays truly acoustic - <without the output being somehow amplified or recorded - but I prefer to keep it simple. Practice the equipment <so you can use it automatically and the more stuff you need to tinker with the more practice you need. 

Interesting post.  I agree completely that you always must practice with the gear you'll use onstage, though all one's practice sessions need not (should not) use the gear.  And of course the more gear you have the more practice you need, because the more combinations of tones are possible.  (And you have to practice setting up too!  The more complicated it is, the more potential for something to break or get connected to the wrong jack.)  

This statement gave me pause:
<...the temptation is there to mess about with kit seeking that ultimate sound, rather than actually blowing <harp. Your ultimate sound comes from you and the amplification rig is just ornamentation, often cumbersome and <unreliable ornamentation at that. 

It's true that if you don't get a good sound without the gear then you won't get a good sound with it.  However, the gear can legitimately be more than "just ornamentation."  You can make sounds with some gear that you can't make without it, period.  That's one of the messages of Jimi Hendrix: amplification can be a lot more than just making the thing louder.  It can make the instrument into an utterly different kind of animal.

You don't get to THAT point without a lot of practice, of course.  It takes years for guitarists to learn to play loud.  It takes years of experimentation, much of it awful-sounding, before you figure out how to make really transformative kinds of gear, stuff that alters the sound in extreme ways, sound great with harp. And then you have to think about what kinds of music it sounds good for.  There isn't a body of traditional music that includes those kinds of harp sounds.  Guitarists now build on what Hendrix and Clapton did in the 1960s and 1970s.  In that era, there's very little recorded material for harp that's comparably extreme, and it wasn't all that widely distributed then or now.  (It ain't easy to get your hands on the stuff Peter Ruth recorded with Sky King in the 1970s, to take one example.  And that's a shame.)  

I try to save harp players a lot of experimentation time with my patch sets, which offer combinations of FX that work (at least at the technical level).  Figuring out the right context for a sound that includes an amp model, flanging, delay, and ring modulation plus an LFO--the kind of sound you hear on my piece "If I Open" at my website ( up to the player.  Even something as relatively simple as an autowah takes time to figure out, though once you do it can be applied to lots of things, as per Brendan Power's recent video of his solo (looped) rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown."  In terms of setup time, Brendan's rig requires exactly one FX device that runs on batteries.  My Digitech RP355 does require AC power, but assuming an outlet's available, setup can be managed easily in a couple of minutes.  "More powerful" doesn't necessarily mean "harder to configure onstage."  Some guitarists are already using computers and iPads running software like IK Multimedia's Guitar Rig onstage.  Digitech's latest devices provide a hardware bed for an iPad--you set the iPad inside the device, and the device turns the ipad into an amp and FX modeler.  That's certainly stage-ready.

Many players are comfortable with less extreme uses for electronica, and that's fine.  I certainly enjoy listening to and playing harmonica whether it's got an amp on it or not--I recorded two CDs of solo acoustic harmonica in the 1990s, and I perform that material to this day.  In its own way, that stuff is as extreme as the heavily electronic tones I've been experimenting with since the mid-1980s.  It's still a radical statement to stand on a stage with nothing but a single harmonica and see what kind of noise you can bring to life.  Filip Jers is working that approach now with both chromatic and diatonic harps.  (I'll post a review of Jers's and PT Gazell's latest CDs soon, by the way.)  My belief is that in the 21st century harmonica players have the option of going as acoustic or as electronic as they want, just as guitarists and keyboardists do, and that they will use the new tools of electronica to take the instrument in directions that are as relevant to this century and beyond as Little Walter's white-hot amped tones were to the last half of the 20th century. Meaning that these new sounds, like Walter's and Hendrix's, will stand the test of time. A great sound is a great sound forever.  In a world awash with inexpensive recording technology nothing is ever lost, and there is always something new to try with the harp. When it works, it's amazing.

Regards, Richard Hunter


author, "Jazz Harp" 
latest mp3s and harmonica blog at
Vids at
more mp3s at
Twitter: lightninrick

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.