© 2003 P. Missin - Details

Simultaneous blow/draw chords

I once heard a really cool noise on an old harmonica record (it may have been by Sonny Terry, but I don't recall for sure) and I didn't figure it out until some years later. It involves sounding blow and draw reeds simultaneously, which is not as impossible as it sounds....

Get a really good seal with your hands across the back of the harp, then blow quite hard into the lower holes. If you sufficiently obstruct the air's usual escape route from the openings at the rear of the covers, the air is forced back out of the upper holes of the harp, sounding the high draw reeds on the way. The sound of the low blow notes and the high draw notes sounding simultaneously is quite striking:

Some harps lend themselves more readily to this technique than others, but with a bit of practice you can get most harps to do it. In fact, if you can get a good enough seal around the harp you can also make pretty much the same sound by drawing sharply in the upper holes of the harp and letting the air be sucked into the lower holes of the harp to sound the blow reeds. Not surprisingly, you can also get the upper blow reeds to sound whilst drawing hard on the lower holes or get the lower draw reeds to sound whilst blowing hard in the upper holes, like this:

The basic effect is more of a dramatic sound, rather than a sensitive musical expression, but you can gain much more control over it by selecting which notes are sounded with careful placement of your fingers over the holes of the harp. For example, by blowing the notes C E and G and allowing the upper draw notes B and D to sound, but covering holes 9 and 10, you can get a nice voicing of a Cmaj9 chord.

Slightly trickier is blocking holes 7 and 10, but keeping holes 8 and 9 open. Playing the low draw notes now gives you a sweet G6 chord.

Lots of other voicing are possible and alternate tunings give many other possibilities.

As I said, I'm not 100% certain where I heard it first, but a great example of it can be found in Sonny Terry's "Blowing The Blues" (available on the first volume of his "Complete Recorded Works" set on Document DOCD-5230 - click here for details). Ace Johnson also used this technique on a couple of his Library of Congress recordings.

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