© 2005 P.Missin - Details

Bent and unbent notes played simultaneously

It does not appear to be widely known that is possible to play a pair of notes on a diatonic harmonica separated by a tongue block and to bend one of those notes without bending the other. This can great expand the range of harmonic possibilities available to the harp player.

Probably the easiest bent/unbent combination to learn is the one available in holes 2 and 5 of a standard diatonic. Drawing on holes 2 and 5 whist blocking holes 3 and 4 gives a minor seventh interval and is quite a common sound in blues harmonica playing (I'm playing a C Lee Oskar in all the examples on this page):

If you are already competent at note bending whilst using tongue blocking, you shouldn't have too much difficulty in bending the 2 draw note without appreciably bending 5 draw:

After getting used to this, move up one hole to the right so that you are playing holes 3 and 6 draw whilst blocking holes 4 and 5, then try bending 3 draw:

In both of the above cases you are bending the lower note down to make an octave with the higher note, which makes it relatively easy to hear when your bend is in tune. As an aside, I would add that I generally seem to find the 2-5 bent/unbent combination easier than the 3-6 bent/unbent combination when I am playing lower pitched harps, with the reverse being the case when I am playing higher pitched harps.

One particularly useful thing about these two bent/unbent combinations is that they make it possible to play a full octave of the major scale voiced in octaves:

If only there were some way of bending 10 blow by one semitone whilst playing hole 7 draw, it would be possible to play two full octaves of the major scale voiced in octaves...

As well as octaves, there are some other useful intervals playable with this technique. I often bend the 3 draw note by two semitones whilst playing 1 draw unbent:

This can be used to suggest the dominant (V) chord in cross harp (second position). Likewise, I often bend 3 draw by two semitones whilst playing 5 draw unbent to suggest the subdominant (IV) chord in straight harp (first position):

Using these bent/unbent doublestops can often suggest the sound of a fiddle. As an example, here is a version of a well-known country song:

I have barely begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with this technique. Obviously the use of multiple harps or alternate tunings adds even more possibilities.

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