Re: [Harp-L] "Drone-Blocking"

Splits (playing harmonies out of both sides of the mouth) and on-off alternations of chords and melody notes (vamping, slaps, pulls) have probably been around ever since harmonica players started using tongue blocking (mid 19th century?). 

Recordings of traditional and blues players starting in the 1920s reveal a highly sophisticated style and set of tongue blocking techniques that had plenty of time to develop between the 1870s, when harmonica manufacturing yielded enough output to send harmonicas in meaningful quantities to the US, and the early 1920s, when the first recordings were made of southern players.

Alternating between the left and right corners of the mouth with the tongue on the harp (corner switching) has certainly been around in some form since at least the 1940s. Stan Harper invented the technique for himself (as Idid for myself and probably many others did as well), and he seems to have done so some time prior to the end of World War II.

Winslow Yerxa
Author, Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5
            Harmonica Basics For Dummies, ASIN B005KIYPFS
            Blues Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-1-1182-5269-7
Resident Harmonica Expert,
Instructor, Jazzschool for Music Study and Performance

----- Original Message -----
From: Richard Hunter <turtlehill@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Friday, April 26, 2013 10:17 AM
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] "Drone-Blocking"

Charlie Barath <harpcharlie@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
"Here is an example of a technique that I call, for lack of a better term, "drone-blocking".
I didn't invent or discover this technique, by any means. I heard another harp player do it a while ago and I ran w/ it. (though I will take credit for coining the phrase) 
I must say I have enjoyed exploring its potential. It's a real crowd pleaser. Hope you like it!"

This technique is one of the two major approaches underlying the solo harmonica pieces on my CDs from 1995 and 1998: "the Act of Being Free
 in One Act" and "The Second Act of Free Being."  Examples can be heard at:

The second major approach on these CDs is the use of non-standard diatonic harmonica tunings, which adds a lot of harmonic variation to the material.

The established musical term for the technique is counterpoint.  Essentially, by playing the harmonica from both sides of the mouth at once, with the tongue blocking the space in between, you create counterpoint in real time on the harmonica.  By moving around the harp and narrowing or expanding the space between the end notes, you can create complex melodies and countermelodies in real time.  My most advanced pieces using this technique include "Bela's World", "Widow's Walk,"
 and "Requiem," all of which can be heard on "The Second Act of Free Being" (or at my website at

Another well-known master of this technique, who applied it mostly to folk-song material, is Sam Hinton  (  Both Sam and I have been cited as influences by George Winston, another fine harmonica player (who happens to have made a hell of a reputation for himself as a pianist, too).  I seem to recall the Filip Jers has used it in some of his compositions as well.

This technique has been around at least since the mid-twentieth century.  I don't know who invented it.  It's certainly cool stuff.  If I ever meet the guy who invented it, I'll thank him.

Regards, Richard Hunter

author, "Jazz Harp" 
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