RE: [Harp-L] u-blocking comparison

Such a funny thread. 

It is an interesting and, I guess, timeless issue with harmonica technique which one does not encounter with other instruments.  I mean....there is not discussion among pianists about how to best achieve a single note--you hit the key you want.  That's it.  Guitarists, brass players, woodwinds...there simply aren't options about how to achieve the fundamental technique of hitting one and only one note.  But we harp players....we labor over the relative merits of tongue blocking, u-bending and puckering.  Yikes.

My own two cents is that you do what you can do, what is most comfortable, mindful of the relative advantages and the most suitable playing circumstances for each method.

Me?  I am unable to hit a single note via the TB method.  For me, TB is what I do when reaching for an octave chord.  And I do that pretty often. But I cannot conceive of getting a clean, hard, reliable single note via TB.  Let alone bending--are you kidding?  I have immense respect for people who bend while getting a single note via TB.  I know that people use TB to achieve single notes, I used to hear Big Walter on a regular basis, and I can recall the inserts from Hohner which always came with new harps--these inserts always advised use of the TB method to achieve single notes.  But, nope, I can't do it.  I'm a Chicago guy and I have an ear for that distinctive chord-slur that immediately precedes a single note in the Chicago tradition--it's a defining feature of the sound.  I used to lament my lack of TB capabilities when it came to producing a single note.  One time, years ago, I called up Joe Filisko, who I've known for many years, and I took Joe out to lunch to discuss this very issue.  Sat in his basement in Joliet, played for him and asked, "...Joe, does my u-block single note lack the correct sound?  Am I a hopeless case cause I can't do TB for single notes, only for octave chords?  Help me, Joe!".  He listened...he considered, evaluated. The final judgement by Joe was that my slurs using u-block were indistinguishable from TB single notes.  What a relief!  In retrospect, the whole thing seems silly.

I actually have a theory about why TB was used to achieve single notes.  I've never shared this oddball thought with anyone, but here it is.  I've found that when I'm playing a tune and I sense that a particular hole is being uncooperative--maybe there is gunk in the reed or maybe it's improperly gapped--I can used a chord-slur to approach the single note via the u-block method, thereby reducing the sharpness of my attack, reducing the likelihood that the damned note will stick and not be produced properly.  My own humble theory is that TB was favored by the early guys because their harps sucked, not up to today's standards, and, to reduce the risk of reeds freezing up and sticking, they sort of snuck up on a note by TB'ing a chord with a slur, in hopes of getting a strong single note without experiencing a sticking note.  The result was a style wherein single notes are often preceded by a feint to a chord just before the single note is hit, using TB as the method.  But, actually, you can get the same effect through u-blocking.   Just my theory.  It's sort of like how great regional recipes were prompted by necessity.  You make due with what you have, you know?

But back to the relative advantages of each technique to achieve a single note.  I alternate between u-bends and puckering to achieve single notes.  It's how I taught myself to play.  It depends on what I'm trying to say at that part in the tune and the quality of playing I'm trying to achieve.  I used TB only for octave chords.  I do the tongue flutter thing with the TB octave chords when it makes sense to do so.  My own use of u-blocking tends to occur when: 1)the song demands a quick run of precisely-hit clean, fast notes--I use u-blocking when I'm playing a lot of fast notes, quick melodic runs, 2) I'm not anticipating a deep bend, 3) I want to approximate the TB-sound of slurring my way to a single note by first hitting a chord and then u-blocking my way to the desired single note.  I do that a lot and if you heard it you would hopefully thing I'm TB'ing, but I'm not.   I used puckering when: 1) I want the attack to be sharp and punchy--I'm using my tongue to start and end the note in a staccato, sharp, hard way--this comes up pretty often, 2) I'm doing a deep bend, especially when I want to precisely hit mid-bends--for some reason I can do this easier with puckering than u-blocking, and I can't do it at all with TB, 3) I want a super-full, resonate tone, like wailing on draw 5 in 2nd position, 4) I think I might want to slur from a single note to a trill--I find that trills are easier when puckering than u-blocking so if I sense that a chord or trill is coming, I favor puckering for doing a single note.  But that's just me.

Whew!  I'm exhausted sharing this intimate when-harp-meets-mouth experience! was relative to the thread.

Happy playing!




> Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2012 17:58:10 -0700
> From: robert@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: [Harp-L] u-blocking comparison
> Let me see if I understand this:
>    1. A U-blocker is able to learn pucker and Tongue Blocking, (if they
>    choose to) but not all players are able to form the u-blocking shape?
>    2. And the U-blocker who learns to pucker and TB has the most tools
>    available?
>    3. But a U-blocker will typically NOT learn to pucker because the U
>    shape is easy(er) and effective?
> Robert Hale
> Learn Harmonica by Webcam
> Low Rates, High Success
> <>

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