Why Is 2 Draw So Difficult?

I think my harmonica’s broken…

When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw (2D) is often the hardest reed to master. We frequently receive emails asking, is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica? It may not be what you want to hear, but the short answer is, it ain’t the harp! OK, point of order, we have had one occasion in the last fifteen years when the instrument was at fault, but there have been a couple of blue moons since then.

2D is a long old reed, which swings through a big slot as we play it. Picture in your mind a spring diving board, fixed at one end and unfettered at the other. The reed and the diving board behave in the same way. Consider also, the fact that 2D shares a chamber with 2B, another long reed in another big old slot. These two reeds are in constant interaction, working as a pair. So we expend a lot of air when we work in hole 2 and it can feel like we’re running out of breath really quickly.

Add to this the flexibility of the reeds themselves. With a choice of one natural and two bent positions, 2D is very sensitive to changes in air pressure. When we try to play 2D for the first time, it can sound mangled or flat, but don’t panic. Alternatively, despite our best efforts, it can simply not respond at all. At the same time we seem to be inflating much faster than when we play the neighbouring holes.

Fear not, this is a really common experience. So let’s look into things together and see if we can help you overcome an important hurdle in every harmonica player’s development. It’s a short process and we promise you it will be painless. Kim followed our advice and look what happened to her! (more…)

Beefing Up Those Bends – 2 Draw

Batman & Robin XmasHoly Diatonic Batman!

Elwood The Apprentice had just finished wrapping his last set of replacement reed plates for Christmas when from somewhere downstairs… Zap! Wh@ck, Whåp, B#ff,  Biƒf, P*w, Zôwie, Spl@tt, Tºot.. He ran to the Good Doctor’s study.. Holy Diatonic Batman! What in the world is this? Revolving walls, hidden rooms, disguises? What is the Good Doctor’s wild secret? Has he ventured into the night to engage in mortal combat with modal meddlers, chromatic criminals, or some overblown oddballs intent on jamming his reeds for good? Is that him caterwauling in the Harp Surgery’s outhouse with Cat Woman? Or has he stepped out incognito to practice his two draw bends? Quick Otis, to the Harp Mobile.

Relax dear reader, the Doc is simply preparing a seasonal stocking filler for you to rehearse between your Christmas pudding and the Queen’s speech. You remember the old Batman & Robin TV series? All handbag fights and satin knickers. Well bizarrely enough the theme tune is actually a great resource for honing those two draw bends. Grab a C major harp from your bat utility belt and join us for some caped crusading.
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Beefing Up Those Bends – 3 Draw Bends

‘Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are’ Macbeth (Shakespeare)

Blow Your Harmonica, Son!Brace yourself and take a deep breath. It’s time to face everyone’s worst harmonica nightmare – the three witches. They’re the three hole draws to you and me. As you are no doubt aware, if we exclude the overdraws in hole 10, this is the hole that carries the most bends. And they’re the ones we secretly dread. They never sound as strong as other notes or bends across the harp (even in the hands of the masters) and they never quite do what you want them to. I’ve heard many players camouflaging the reed’s inherent imprecision with vibrato or else they just don’t go there. Like the inconvenient pattern swap across holes 6 and 7, subconsciously we wonder who designed such a frustrating tuning system in the first place.

The message from the Good Doctor is deal with it. Embrace the challenge and don’t shy away. OK, our ears can detect the tonal imperfections, but so what? No cracked eggs, no omelette. It may be the weak spot on the harp, but it’s also part of it’s character and charm. Make it yours. So let’s feel the fear and do it anyway. Follow me.. (more…)

Beefing Up Those Bends – 4 Draw Bend

Here’s a simple two-part exercise to help strengthen your 4 draw bend. We’ll assume you have already found your draw bend, but haven’t perfected playing it in isolation without scooping down from the clean draw. If you have already perfected them, you may still find this exercise useful in sustaining your bending muscles and add it to you ‘harp gym’ regime. Hitting a bend accurately and without scooping is known as direct bending – a skill which is central to controlled playing. If you haven’t yet attempted any bends, why not take a look at the draw bend page from my Harp Skills menu here.

Stage One

We start by moving from the draw note down to the draw bend as slowly as possible. The objectives are to maintain a good tone (no loose air), a respectable amount of volume and to control the descent. Now do this again, but saving enough lung capacity to hold the bend as long as possible. Remember to descend as slowly as possible first. (more…)

Perfecting that 2 draw bend – Low Rider (War) [..with tab]

Lee OskarFew students ever arrive at the Harp Surgery knowing exactly how many bends there are or where they’re all located. Some think they do, but on closer inspection find there are gaps in their knowledge or ability. Some can draw bend but not blow bend. Some are unable to bend at all. This is a skill area that almost always needs attention. I firmly believe players of any ability should spend time working on the accuracy of their direct bends. No matter how good you are, those 3 hole draw bends can never be taken for granted.

When you start bending, it always pays to remember the Harp Surgery’s golden rule – it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on the end of pencils. Perfecting your bends will involve an amount of trial and error. You will learn from your mistakes. And remember this is one of the most significant points of any harp player’s development. Be patient and persevere. You’re breaking into the big time!

In another article, we spoke about monitoring the accuracy of bends – How do I know I’m bending in tune? My conclusion was that all the electronic paraphernalia in the world is no substitute for using your own ears. Furthermore, instead of learning each individual bend in isolation with an electronic tuning device to determine your accuracy, far better to pick a fun tune and learn to play the bends in context. You’re a musician after all. If the bends ain’t right, the tune don’t work! (more…)

How Do I Know I’m Bending In Tune?

If I catch you bending, I’ll saw your legs right off..

It’s a fair question often posed by newcomers to the harp, regardless of any previous musical experience. Basically, we all want to know we’re doing something right the first time we try it. Folks often arrive at our workshops under the assumption they’ve nailed their bends, when they actually haven’t completed their journey.

The process starts by quantifying the task. There are twelve regular draw/blow bends on a 10 hole diatonic.  1D’, 2D’, 2D”, 3D’, 3D”, 3D”‘, 4D’, 6D’, 8B’, 9B’, 10B’ and 10B”.

Next we need to learn the skills necessary to achieve each bend. On first encounter each reed has its own distinct response. In time you will grow used to, and learn to accommodate, these idiosyncrasies. You can find comprehensive instructions for playing draw bends and blow bends in our Harp Skills section (top menu). (more…)