[Harp-L] switching draws to blows

philharpn@xxxxx philharpn@xxxxx
Mon Jun 27 17:24:33 EDT 2016

I was cleaning out my out harp-l posts and I came across the chats from June 11 about switching draw notes to blow notes -- because it's supposedly easier to blow notes than draw notes. That is absolutely true. Everything anybody does -- talk, sing, whistle, breathing  is based on the exhale. The inhale is automatic. Nobody ever things about it. That is partly why it is easier to blow notes than to draw notes. Inhale is automatic so nobody ever thinks the inhale has to finessed. But that is the case with the harmonica, which is why it is so hard to get decent sounding inhale notes and so easy to get decent sounding exhale notes.

My first inclination was playing the tune in a position that is mostly blow notes or a harp with extra valves or reeds that fills out the missing notes.

The idea of flipping the reed plates was suggested but that would require getting reoriented about where the bends are. While selecting the SUB30 or Gazell system used the conventional system with the bends on the draw notes of the first 5 notes.

Nobody mentioned the PT Gazell valving system when talking about switching draws to blows (playing the harp on the  blow notes).  The Suzuki SUB30 was mentioned. The PT Gazell method harps do the same thing.

The PT Gazell  valved Seydel adds blow bends of a half-step to the first 6  holes and draw bends of a half-step to the top 4 holes. This is done with  valves or windsavers. The SUB30 UltraBend accomplished the same thing by using an extra reed on each hole. Valves and windsavers are the same thing. Called valves on diatonic and windsavers on chromatic, they are designed to cut down on air leakage.

On the internet (6-27-16), they cost about same $90 - $110. How they sound arguably depends on the player and key of the harp. The SUB30 is only available in a few keys; the Seydel in any.

They accomplish the same thing. They maintain all the conventional draw bends (1,2,3,4,6) and blow bends (10,9,8). Both harps add  extra notes that would not otherwise  available without overblows. The blow bends work the same way they do on the Jimmy Reed top end of the harp. (C is difficult; G and A are easier to work)

Most people prefer cross harp/2nd position/draw harp because of the access to the draw bends.

But bends are relative. You can try to draw bend all day on a C harp and never get a Eb -- without overblowing, which is another thing entirely.  Charlie McCoy now uses a country tuned harmonica (F# on draw 5) for many of his tunes instead of switching harmonicas. With either of these harps, that F# is a blow bend away on hole 6 (G). 

For those who looking for a book  that explains with clear graphics how the diatonic/blues harp lays out and how to play in each position, try the Mel Bay book: 

Complete 10-Hole Diatonic Harmonica Series: C Harmonica Book (eBook)
by Jim Major

There are 12 different books in the series, one for each key, and they explain the notes, intervals, bends, overbends, chords,dyads (double stops),  arpeggios, modes and scales that are specific to each key. Everything in the C book works for all the other keys. But if you want to eliminate the guesswork, get a copy of the other keys you usually play in.

Keep on harpin


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