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HARP - THE NAKED TRUTH

Warning: This article features suggestions that involve undressing your harp and should only be read by mature adults...!

Some interesting experiments can be conducted by playing the diatonic harp without its cover plates. The function of the cover plates is to form an acoustic chamber around the reeds to amplify the sound and affect the tone. It also provides something for the hands to get hold of and, in the case of the blues harp, forms part of the instrument's mouthpiece. Removing them makes the harp more difficult to play comfortably, but allows you to create some unusual effects.

With the covers removed, blow into hole 4. Now, still blowing, out your thumb onto the draw reed for the same hole. Notice how the tone changes - the note becomes louder, sounding more like a chromatic harmonica. This is because your thumb is functioning like the valve on a chromatic, closing off the other reed in the same hole and forcing all of the air through the reed you are playing. You will find that the note can be bent in the same way as a note on a chromatic. Try playing 4 draw whilst covering 4 blow - compare the bend you can get this way, with the bend you get normally and you will notice quite a difference. Try 4 blow again, this time covering the blow reed and you will find that the note will not sound at all, when played normally. If you use a similar technique to note bending, you will find that the note suddenly leaps up in pitch, as the overblow comes in. This is how the Suzuki Overdrive and Dr. Bahnson's Overblow Harp works, blocking the blow reeds to achieve overblows and blocking the draw reeds to achieve overdraws. The overblows/draws played this way are a lot stronger than when the harp is played normally - they will be louder, have a better tone, can be bent further without losing the note and will take a lot more vibrato than usual.

The previous ideas could be very practical in certain circumstances, say, when recording, if you want cleaner overblows. The following ideas are just suggestions - they may be useful to you, or they may just be an interesting way to spend a few minutes. With your naked harp, play holes 4 and 5 together. Now stop the 4 draw reed with your thumb and the blow 5 reed with your finger (you might find this a little tricky at first). Now, still with your mouth covering both holes, play draw 5 and bend it downwards. Notice how far you can bend it - on a harp, it will (in theory, at least) go down as far as C#. Still covering the same two holes with your mouth, stop the 4 blow reed and the 5 draw reed, play 5 blow. Again, on a C harp, the E can be bent down to around Eb. This is the same principle that is used when playing bent notes on the double reed diatonics (octave and tremolo harps). Experiment with some other pairs of reeds - the higher reed that is left unblocked can be bent down to just above the pitch of the lower unblocked reed. Try it, you'll soon get the hang of it, but whether it is any use to you, only you can decide.

Possibly even less useful, is interfering with the reed as it is sounding, without stopping it completely. This can produce some very odd effects, ranging from buzzing noises to pitch changes. Maybe you can use these sounds, maybe not, but I'm sure you will enjoy experimenting.


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