Recently I've been spending a lot of time working and focusing on tone. I know that there are great players like Jason Ricci and others who've really REALLY worked hard on thier tone while lip pursing, and have managed to basically sound the same while lip pursing as they do tongue blocking.
I've tried all different emboucheres lip pursing - and just find that the ultimate FATTEST tone definitely comes when I TB.
Although the tone I get when I LP is definitely satisfactory, I'm still getting the impression that the really fattest tones I've heard (i.e. Big Walter, Paul Lamb, and others who sound like they've literally swallowed the harp) would be exrtremely, EXTREMELY difficult to achieve while lip pursing.
Last Edited by on Mar 20, 2009 3:21 PM
I can do the odd bend here and there while TB, but I've never found there to be any significant improvement - or any improvement - by doing it that way. Perhaps that's just my technique, or lack of it, I suspect.
On the question of tone, it seems to me that the most important thing is that your ear be the final judge. Whichever way you decide to play, you'll, I daresay, get used to producing the sound that you want.
When LP, there is still an awful lot of freedom to vary the tone with your tongue, and it's more free to add articulation. Still, each to their own. ---------- 'If it sounds GOOD to you, it's bitchen; if it sounds BAD to YOU, it's shitty' - Frank Zappa
Guys like Adam can get all the tone which ever way they go.
As for me ( as a learner ) I found that I got a better tone tongue blocking, ( I learnt lip pursing first, as I followed Adams lessons then switched after a year or so). I think I got a better result for two main reasons.
1. As DanP said, it is easier to get the harp deeper as you can shove it in as far as you want really and still get a single note with the tongue, where with lip pursing you need the lips at the front to form the hole.
2. It is easy and natural to add chords, slaps etc around your single notes, which really fattens up the overall sound you are making. ( I know you can do this LP, but personally I didnt find it a natural process )
Yea - I'm sorry for anyone who's sick to death of the age old TB v LP thing - I'm really not trying to start a big argument - I use both techniques frequently and am of the opinion that TB/LP [and U-blocking if possible] should all be learned and utilised to their full effectiveness.
I suppose I'm expressing a thought that occured to me when considering how to maximise tone - particularly after seeing the BW demonstration in this video.
I suppose after seeing this I came to conclude that to fully maximise tone - particularly for trad blues stuff on lower harps - very efficient TB is necessary. So in this thread I'm just expressing these thoughts to everyone else, as there probably isn't another person in the vicinity who would listen to my ramblings!*
Perhaps I should direct this thread towards a question:
"What's the fattest/biggest tone you've heard either live or on a record?"
*that's the great thing about this forum when you're stuck in Belfast thinking too much about the harp!
I agree shane. People should learn both because both techniques have their place. I know you're not trying to start an argument. In fact, I like reading peoples opinion on this. I find the subject interesting. When I said "the old tongue blocking vs. lip pursing debate" I simply meant that this debate has been going on for many decades and I know it will continue for many years to come. I never tried U-blocking though and would be interested to hear from other people who do it.
Last Edited by on Mar 20, 2009 7:21 PM
Sort of on the Same Old Subject here--I just discovered, as I was learning to play the following piece (still working on it, BTW):
This can be played just fine, with good tone, doing the lip pursing--but it gets much nicer and more rhythmic, to me at least, if I try it TB'd.
The cool pay-off is that, in learning it, I found that I was actually getting the little scoop bends on the 3 draw while TBing! This was new for me--then I found myself doing bigger bends while TBing--one of those head-slapper break-throughs for me.
It's easier to work on at first on an A or C harp--then get down on the low D.
Pf course, it might be a couple of years before I get the tone Paul gets--but it sure is fun to work on!
Somebody mentioned Little Walter ... maybe it's just me but I hear a lot of lip pursing in his style as well, especially those horn like tones. I think they used a combination of both techniques back then already.
---------- If it ain't broke you just haven't fixed it enough ...
1. "Tongue curling is genetically determined." Not true! The current theories range from there being no heritable component to it's unclear. Identical twins can show different ability, which kind of screws up the straight 'genetic only' belief which is still taught in high schools today.
2. "You have to curl your tongue to U-block". Maybe some people do, but it is not a prerequisite. In fact for me, u-blocking (80%ish of my playing) is like a lip purse, but using my tonguetip. Anyone could learn to u-block if they wanted to.
I U-block, my tongue is relaxed, and virtually flat with just a minimal curl at the tip. I find it gives me speed and accuracy. I U-block for single notes, bends and obs, I tongue block octaves, splits, flutters etc... and I lip purse when any kind of articulation is needed.
In the biography 'Blues With A Feeling' it is reported that Little Walter U-blocked some of the time. When I read that I felt somewhat vindicated as I have actually been told by 'experts' that this embouchure would hold me back.
It's an undeniable fact that the vast majority of the players cited for having "big fat tone" are tongue blockers.
Tongue blocking forces the player to have a wider embouchure by placing the harp further back in the mouth. This in part accounts for some of that tone,. However there are lots of other factors involved in achieving "big fat tone". Diaphragmatic breathing, muscle relaxation and octaves to name just a few.
Of course you can achieve good tone from either lip pursing or tongue blocking. Most proficient players use both techniques and use them to colour the sound accordingly. Learning to use both techniques is really the most prudent thing to do.
Shaneboylan - The biggest fattest tones I have ever heard on the harp belonged to Big Walter Horton, William Clarke and Dennis Gruenling.
William and Dennis are head and shoulders above the rest for "big fat tone". Whilst Big Walter is just on another planet.
Whenever "big fat tone" is mentioned the first name on everybodys lips is Big Walter Horton. He is the benchmark for tone.
I would say your using lip pursing for the most part and then using tongue blocking nearer the end (around the 2:00 mark to do the flutters). You may also be tongue blocking some minor parts earlier. I'm guessing that the faster runs and the overblow are lip pursing though.
Am I close?
Last Edited by on Feb 25, 2010 5:17 AM
The tone available by lipping or blocking on single notes and bends is exactly the same.
Its only when you start tongue slapping you get a "fatter" sound. As just before each single note or octave you are getting a 3,4 or 5 note chord.
I tongue block all the time, including bends and blow bends, as I slap on almost every note.
Lipping can give you one tone not available to blockers and that is the every thin sounding bend that gets used occasionally to add colour.Esp on 4 draw bend. I've tried it blocking, but it sounds better lipped.
See here's the thing though. Even if you only do a flutter then that's using tongue blocking. Because you can only do that technique tongue blocking. It's very nature means you are lifting your tongue on and off the harp so that by definition makes it a tongue block.
I wonder how many players realise or agree/disagree with that.
The easiest way to tell if someone is tongue blocking is the position of the jaw. All tongue block players drop the jaw,which opens up all airways to the throat,mouth and diaphragm. This creates a huge air chamber for resonance and sound projection.
"there's no difference in tone between TB and pucker."
I agree. When playing single notes the difference (if any) is barely discernable.
However the players mentioned Big Walter, Dennis Gruenling, William Clarke and Paul Lamb use a lot of techniques such as octaves, slaps and tongue flutters that can only be achieved using tongue blocking.
These particular techniques form a major part of what people perceive as the "big fat tone".
The collective use of these techniques along with single notes, chords, double stops, etc is what I believe people base their view (rightly or wrongly) of "big fat tone" on and not simply single notes.
There is nothing about the lip blocking method that prevents a player from dropping his jaw.
"Lip Pursing" and "Pucker" are misnomers. If you actually pucker up, you are doing it wrong. Have you watched Adam's lessons? He advises Big Lips or "Fish Lips."
Good tone can be had with either method. Lip Blocking frees the tongue for better note attack and staccato effects. Tongue blocking gives a percussive effect, but can sound mushy. Most players I know use both methods. Asserting that one is better than the other is dumb.
Doggy- "To play authentic Chicago style blues you need to tongue slap/block most of the time."
Really? Paul Butterfield mostly lip blocked. Dude had pretty good tone.
It is tongue blocking itself that makes the style sound mushy, not the amp. In TB the tongue is tied up on the harp and not available to be used to start or stop notes with the TUH or TAH techniques. It sounds different... not as sharp.
Um... Thanks for the tips about the amps. ;-)
Actually, TB can sound great through lots of different amps. The same is true of lip blocking. The notion that a player needs to tongue block into a Concert or Bassman to have good tone is kind of dated. If your goal is to be a copy cat of SOME players in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, I guess you might be right.
Doggy, we agree that amps do not make some TBers sound mushy. They do it themselves by sacrificing note definition for the sake of keeping their tongues on the harp, no matter what amp they use. Smart players use both methods -- TB and lip block -- like Kim Wilson.
And tongue slaps aren't exclusive to TBing. Lip blockers often use octave splits, slaps, and flutters.
I see you have a devotion to the 5F6 fixed bias circuit. It certainly has a distinctive sound, but there are lots of other amps that cost and weigh less that sound great for harp.
I'm curious about something: Since you and others seem determined to keep your tongues on the harp at all times and staying in the old school, how do you feel about overblows?
The BEST thing about this thread were the examples of Paul Lamb's esquisite playing. I was locked into u-blocking for years, because that is how I learned to get single note easier and I just stuck with it. I incorporated TBing after being convinced that if I wanted to get the ChiTown blues tones going better, then I needed to work on developing that skill. Tongue blocking did exactly that FOR ME and I got a lot closer to what I was trying achieve with that style. So, now I switch back and forth.
Rick. Ref overblows. I can over blow with my tongue on the harp, but only easily with harps that I've gapped.
I don't find a need to use them in my band playing Chicago and swing styles.
So, probably will never use them as I'd need to completely change my style of playing. Gapping all my harps tight,(slapping tends to choke them). Plus I've still got loads to learn, just using "only" bends.
I don't have a problem people using them. If used to make good music.
What is good music though,is entirely subjective to the listener.
Didn't we have a debate about Blues Nazis? (Or was that on Harp-l?)
-You MUST tongue block only! (or not) -You MUST use a certain amp! (or not) -You MUST never use overblows! (or not) -You MUST play vewwy vewwy quitewy! (or not) -You MUST use a certain type of microphone! (or not) -You MUST use diaphragm vibrato! (or not) and on and on....
Gentleman, why limit yourselves so much? I think all this sturm und drang amounts to defending one's own preferences (and limitations).
If someone wants to have a narrow or different range of skills, I could not care less. Ain't no better or worse. "Fatter Tone" is a purely subjective value. I admire all good players, regardless of the methods or gear they use. If we all played the same methods, used the same gear, and copied the same licks, things would be pretty boring.
Hear hear addict!! I am reading this thread and thinking of blind men arguing over what the color red is. It usually is in the mind of the beholder. Whether tongue blocking or lip pursing, if the sound is good , what difference does it make how it is achieved? Is it so hard to think that two different opinions can be valid?
For me, fat tone has little to do with how many notes are in the chord or tounge- blocked attack before a single note...etc. I like to hear a huge single note with vibrato as much as any of the other techniques. It's all good to me and fat tone is there even in a single note played byt hte best playes...I can't tell if it's tb or lp once it becomes a single note. for me the vibrato makes more difference.
I agree with learning both, but I don't understand why some of you say you can't put the harp deep into your mouth while lip pursing for a fat tone. I lip purse and the harp is so deep in my mouth that my upper lip is flush with the back of the harmonica. Deep harp, big open mouth and throat,and totally relaxed...sounds pretty fat to me.
Doggy, glad you brought up Sonny Terry, a total lip blocking player. While he is not really "Chicago Style," he's a good example of good tone and technique.
One thing I've noticed in some of these debates here and elsewhere is that the lip blocking method is misunderstood. It is derisively described as Pucker or Pursing, but that is not right. If a player is puckered up as if drinking through a straw he is doing it wrong. No good player does it that way.
I've seen TBers imply that lip blockers never touch their tongues to the harp and always play a single note. That is nonsense. The ONLY thing that distingishes one method from the other is that a TBer uses his tongue to isolate a single hole or adjacent holes, and a lip blocker uses the inside of his lip.
TBers commonly claim that their method allows them to get the harp deeper in their mouth. This is also nonsense. If a player were truly puckering it might be true. Nothing about lip blocking prevents the player from creating a big cavity for the tone to resonate.