Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Resonance
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863 posts
Jan 06, 2010
4:55 PM
I wanted to write a post about it for a couple of days now. Started a few times over today. Just got me a burger for more contemplation time and am now waiting for my ice cream to melt... but still can't collect all the ideas and put it into a comprehensible post...

However, here's the basic message:

In the last couple of weeks I started to realize that resonance is THE central most important thing when playing the harp.

And not only because of tone, or bending, or obs, tuning, etc, etc...

MBH-community, please help me out here and get this thread started. I'll add my thoughts as it goes along.

germanharpist on YT. =;-)

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 5:56 PM
865 posts
Jan 06, 2010
5:13 PM
Ok, inspiration came just around the corner.

This is a quote of woody that I just saw on the "Hi from a raw beginner..." thread:

" I have had an A harp in my gig bag for years and years and never managed to make it sound like a real harmonica.

Then one day I bought a Lee Oskar in 'E'...and suddenly I could bend notes with ease...!!! "

I'd say it's pretty clear. Your natural mouth cavity/natrual mouth resonance at the moment was tending towards a somewhat higher harp.

Just shows again, that every player has different anatomy that tends to prefer different keyed harp... and finding the right one will make the learning process much easier... tataaa RESONANCE!

Not 100% if that is/was the case, but it sounds plausible... ;)
germanharpist on YT. =;-)

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 5:16 PM
866 posts
Jan 06, 2010
5:27 PM
I'm pretty sure that's also exactly the reason some people have problems with a solid 2 hole draw... The lower notes in general tend to need a better resonance chamber to sound full but (for whatever reason) ESPECIALLY the 2 hole draw needs the right resonance chamber.

Another reason... (and I see it's getting to be the incomprehensible post I feared it would - but, so what?)...so, another reason that good resonance control helps you immensely is the following:
We all know, that after playing a harp (of a certain key) for a while we get accustomed to it and it sounds much better than the others. Then when we switch the harp(-key) it takes some time until it sounds just as good as the other one - until we get accustomed to it.

I'd say the problem is, that you have to change your mouth cavity / resonance chamber and adapt it to the new key/harp for it to sound right. And because most people don't do it consciously, it takes a while. However, if you know how to control the whole mouth cavity/resonance thing, the adaptation goes in a whiff...

Ok, these are some random examples. I'll bring some substantial points tomorrow.


germanharpist on YT. =;-)

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 5:43 PM
867 posts
Jan 06, 2010
5:32 PM
One more thing: Most people say that to get a good tone you simply have to drap your jaw (and create a large mouth cavity/resonance chamber)...

This may be true, but not completely. Rather each note has it's specifically sized resonance chamber. So dropping it arbitrarily is IMO not the right advice. It should rather be dropped exactly to the right spot...

(more to follow)

germanharpist on YT. =;-)
7 posts
Jan 06, 2010
5:52 PM
I am a guitar player, as you know...they say that the unique sound of a guitarist is in his hands and fingers....so GH, you'd be right, I think, to say that the tone IS in the mouth connected to your head !

Does tone affect resonance? Does resonance affect tone?
Are they equal?

60 posts
Jan 06, 2010
5:54 PM
I guess there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. Personally, I have learned the harp by simply just playing it. Playing it has always made me feel good, so I keep doing it. To stop and think out such things as here, is no fun. So, I continue on with learning through self discovery- basically what feels good I do. Don't forget about the feeling good note. This one is a powerful one I have learned. Walter
walter tore's sponotbeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing.


8 posts
Jan 06, 2010
6:06 PM
I quite like the thought. As a novice, I'm filled with envy when I hear other harmonica players because they make sounds I don't.
type-in gosiawoodman for my amateur YouTube performances.


Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 6:09 PM
36 posts
Jan 06, 2010
6:22 PM
Hey GermanHarpist, don't keep that post to yourself ! Fascinating to watch your thoughts unfold though ;-)
Actually, resonance chambers are quite uniform in a harp. And I believe that adapting to low or high holes, or low or high keys, depends of your ability to adjust your blowing/drawing energy to the length (resistance) of the reed. The purpose beeing to keep the same quality of sound, be it a low or high note. You feel that when you're looking for a clean note attack, or when you learn to stablize your bends.
Apart from that, there is no much scoop for resonance in the harp itself. Remember, the sound doesn't come from the reeds but from the air vibrating, so I guess mouth does matter (as do the cupping of the hands).
Tangentially, I've always wondered if the fat tone of tongue blocking is due to the fact that there is indeed some air passing through the blocked holes...
868 posts
Jan 06, 2010
6:38 PM
Walter, I see what you mean. This has little to do with making music and the feeling and so on. But it's about technique at it's most fundamental level. It's about wanting to find out what makes this instrument work... This resonance thing connects soo many things that to me were previously unclear. It makes soo much sense...

You say, you don't think it's fun to think out things like the above. To me that's fun... and it gives me the drive to practice.

I understand that it's not everybody's thing, but I'm sure that there are other people on this forum that are interested in this stuff - and that could maybe profit off it.

So as I obviously think that it's of such great importance I won't hold back in my pedantic ways for this thread. But I promise that I won't get all preachy, talking about nothing else etc... but allow me to change my signature for a short while.... ;)

germanharpist on YT. =;-) - Resonance is KEY!
61 posts
Jan 06, 2010
6:56 PM
germanharpist: I think it is great this process is motivating you. I belive we all should find what works and persue it regardless of what current trends may say. Keep it up, and I meant not to take away from your journey. Walter
walter tore's sponotbeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing.


869 posts
Jan 06, 2010
7:20 PM
Ok, I can't sleep so here we go:

Every note played if it's a draw or blow note a bend or overblow should be played with exactly the right resonance chamber / mouth cavity size corresponding to it's frequency.

For the blow note it is important to have a strong tone and as saregapadanisa (I actually had to copy that) says, to have a good attack.

For the draw note it is important because otherwise (as mentioned above) the two or three hole draw sound like crap.

For the bends it is important because this is simply how the bends are produced. For those that didn't know, when bending you use the size of your mouth cavity - the resonance chamber to force the blow and draw reed to vibrate at the frequency that you want. I.e the bend note.

Overblows and overdraws in my experience are simply much easier to play and to hold played with the correct resonance chamber. However, I'm quite sure that most of us do it naturally, because it is simply a lot harder to play overblows when not done with the right resonance chamber.
And I'm pretty sure that it's the same thing when bending the overblows/-draws.

Why the correct resonance chamber is important for tuning is quite obvious. The only way of focusing the frequency of the note is to play it with the correlating resonance chamber.

Of course just as important as the resonance chamber is the air pressure or breath control (thanks BBQBOB :).

So here we go, these are the two central parts of controlling bends, obs, tone - the harmonica in general: The correct resonance chamber and breath control.

As finishing words: It simply FEELS much better when the reed/the air collumn can vibrate unhindered - when it is offered the correct resonance chamber. It turns out to be a very comfortable standing wave... ;)

These are all just thoughts. I'm not sure if it's all correct what I'm typing. I'm sure there are people with more experience that could chip in... BBQBOB? :)

germanharpist on YT. =;-) - Resonance is KEY!

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 7:33 PM
329 posts
Jan 06, 2010
7:25 PM
GH I have to agree. I had to sit down and think about what I do and yes, I make adjustments in embouchure and resonance when changing harp keys. They can be subtle and unconscious. Or bigger. I don't play the same way on a low F as I do on a D,say. And hands also are a big part of that resonance. I think Pat Missin has an article on cupping and resonance. I'll try to find it.
870 posts
Jan 06, 2010
7:35 PM
I had read about it before - and tried it without success. However, now that I learned to control the tone produced infront of the harp I could try again to compliment the optimal sound behind the harp. Thanks for the link tuckster.

germanharpist on YT. =;-) - Resonance is KEY!

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 7:37 PM
38 posts
Jan 06, 2010
7:39 PM
GH, in the feeling you describe, that's the air column that is relevent, not so the resonance. When you can keep your air column open and working from the south of your tommy to the tip of your lips, the world is yours. I doubt that resonance could start down there (althought...).
19 posts
Jan 06, 2010
8:51 PM
I belong to those who like such geeky considerations.

Just did the calculations below, with very approximate values, for the fun of it.

Same as GH at the beginning of the thread, am not sure what to make about this yet.

Exercise: calculate the wave length L for an A440 Hz sound signal:
* speed of sound: 340 m/s
* L = 340 / 440 = 0.77m

I don't know sure about anatomy of the mouth, but say it is around 0.1m in length.

One wavelength of an A440Hz doesn't fit in the mouth, in fact it is 7 times as long as the mouth. So there cannot be any resonance within the mouth, since you need multiple periods of the signal in the resonance cavity to have resonance. There may be other harmonics though, that do fit in the mouth.

If we take into consideration throat, we get a resonance chamber of 0.3m, can fit half a wavelength.

Quick conclusion: the anatomical size of the mouth doesn't allow for resonance of the sound signal primary frequency. So things are not so simple. Must have to do with infinitely more complicated issues involving position of tongue, reflectivity of cavity surfaces (what did you drink before playing), higher order harmonics.

Wondering if people made computer simulations.

Just geeking out.
86 posts
Jan 06, 2010
9:19 PM
Just doing a quick search on the web I found a couple of references that say that the typical adult male's vocal tract is ~17 cm long, and that the peak of the frequency response curve would be around 500 Hz. This is at 1/4 of the wavelength.

You could probably look up the formant frequencies to see where resonances occur.
704 posts
Jan 06, 2010
10:19 PM
I think harmonicas work differently than some other instruments. According to Wikipedia they are free aerophones.


My understanding is the note is created primarily outside the instrument. The reed chops the air up into the wavelengths, so then you color the note with your hands and mouth. Regular aerophones (like flutes) create the noise by creating a column of air the length of the instrument (down to the hole that you have open). The harmonica creates that column by physically interrupting the flow of air with the beating of the reed (at least that's how I understand it.)

edit- I love this stuff, at least right up until I have to do math!

Last Edited by on Jan 06, 2010 10:20 PM
954 posts
Jan 07, 2010
4:16 AM
I love all this stuff.

Just to throw some more ideas in to cause confusion. What about this?

Accoustic guitars have a fixed size resonance chamber which does not differ depending on what note is struck, so does size really matter?.

The resonance chamber we speak of is the mouth, throat, hand cup, etc. This is covered in soft tissue which would absorb sound rather then allow the sound to resonate.

Just some thoughts.

Click to Blow Your Brains Out!

Last Edited by on Jan 07, 2010 4:17 AM
24 posts
Jan 07, 2010
4:38 AM
i agree wholy and souly with waltertore.i have spent hours learning harp using gutteral tones different mouth positions ect for resonance just because it felt good.incidently waltertore you cool cat you remind me of an old and famous guy from perth .you could throw a bucket of paint on a wall and he would turn it into a great painting.like paintobeat to spontobeat i wanna know more about you man and buy some of your tunes n
97 posts
Jan 07, 2010
5:14 AM
I have played a bit of trumpet, saxophone, didgeridoo, pan pipes and flute before I found harmonica. What I experimentally understood was that the resonance chamber you create in your mouth affects a lot to the sound of all the blow instruments (and draw for that matter ;). Actually even with Saxophone that has lots of keys etc forming the right air frequency (=note), your mouth position can make a difference whether it plays or not. And the same goes with trumpet and didgerdoo.

Even if the cheeks are quite soft it doesn't mean that all the surfaces in the mouth are as soft and non-acoustic - have you ever tried yelling at the lake? The sound travels several miles, and I'd say water is pretty soft element.. :)

BUT, I'd say sarega there has a point too. We aren't talking just about some static structure like guitar chamber here. There is actually actively moving air mass in the mouth cavities too. It will form vacuums, high pressures etc which are so powerful that harp player can actually feel those and adjust his/her mouth accordingly to f.ex. bend or vibrate overblows.

Another thing that I have begun to understand more now that I practice singing is that there are also some physical structures that affect the tone - the form and thickness of your bones, size of your lungs and chest, solar plexus etc. These are also some variables that resonate with your voice. This is why we don't all sound the same even when we speak.

So there are incredible amount of variables here and some of them we can affect consciously and some of them we learn to affect unconsciously. Some of them we can't affect at all in short term, so of them we can affect long-term by building more muscle, gain some weight etc. And then again we have elements that we can switch like the instrument itself, mics and amplifiers with different volume and tone settings. Even the switch from pucker to TB and back.

Whooah, this harmonica playing is really a complex world... :)

But I guess the two most important aspects to focus on in the practice are forming the resonance chamber (static) and controlling the moving air mass (dynamic).

Then if you can move the harp accordingly so that you are always on the right hole, with these skills you only have to learn to play the music itself. :D
781 posts
Jan 07, 2010
5:36 AM
Gawd! the way my mind works sometimes...

So I'm reading the last post about reflective and non reflective surfaces in the mouth and now I'm wondering if teeth make a difference. Anyone with full dentures who can conduct an experiment?
26 posts
Jan 07, 2010
5:47 AM
hey mr v i had my 2 front teeth kicked outta my mouth years ago.im glad you bought this up cos i play bbetter and more comfortably when i slip the front dentures into the top pocket bfore i let loose and i do mean let loose.
98 posts
Jan 07, 2010
9:27 AM
Of course the teeth matter too, as well as all the other bones in the head. Thus the singing term "head voice". Too bad I wasn't playing harmonica back when I had my teeth braces. Those could have been a good resonance device! Somebody should start to customize those for better harp playing... :)
62 posts
Jan 07, 2010
10:04 AM
I have to admitt reading these posts has really enlightnened me to the fact the inside of the mouth has something to do with the sound of the harp. Up till now I just figured it was hands, lips, tongue. Like I said earlier, I learn via discovery and just go with the sounds I hear and feel. Still I found this topic to be very interesting. I look forward to trying to see if I can figure out if my mouth size changes as I play. I never paid attention because I like the tones I get. Thanks! Walter
walter tore's sponotbeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing.



Last Edited by on Jan 07, 2010 11:09 AM
76 posts
Jan 07, 2010
10:11 AM
One of the advantages of tongue blocking is that it allows the player to get the holes of the harmonica in the mouth past the teeth which creates a larger and less obstructed resonance chamber.

If a player uses a deep embouchure for lip pursing/puckering and tilts the holes of the harp down, they get into the mouth past the top teeth which also creates a larger resonance chamber and improves tone.

So, yeah, teeth definitely have something to do with it.

Last Edited by on Jan 07, 2010 10:16 AM
706 posts
Jan 07, 2010
10:38 AM
On guitars the strings make the initial sound, but that reminds me of something I heard way back when. The way a resonating chamber actually involves the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics- Conservation of Energy. If you take a rubber band and stretch it between your fingers you can pluck it and make a noise (at least if you can rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time!)

If you stretch it tighter you can get a higher pitch. If you pluck it harder you can make a louder noise, but it's not going to be that loud. You need a resonating chamber! Resonating chambers make things louder. They can't add energy to the system though. They can redirect all the noise into one direction, or they can concentrate the sound into a shorter duration, louder sound. I suppose you could also set it up to take a loud sound and make it softer with a longer duration. The amount of energy is fixed though, and once you put a noise out there all the normal things that drain energy in a system work on it too. Of course, you can add more energy to the system, usually electric amplification.

So back to the way a harmonica makes noise. If you have a really airtight harp and you cup your hands just right there is a spot where suddenly the harmonica noise goes down really really dramatically. The is also a way to create a wah sound without a full cup, just by slowly starting to bring your hands together. At a certain point the gap between your hands dramatically cuts the sound, even although there is still plenty of space between them. This may have something to do with frequency length. The shape of the harmonica sends noise out through it into a room. So the question is, if you aren't making any vocalizations on blow notes, and the blow notes are being made in a column of air heading out of the harmonica, what can we do except use our hands? We can change the shape of the air going into the harmonica. Maybe we are creating sympathetic vibrations in the reeds? Maybe we are just changing the direction the air hits the reeds from.

But with draw notes! With draw notes that column of air is getting a pitch and then going into our bodies where we can add more nuance? Is that why draw notes sound richer?

I have no idea. I've had 5 Oreo cookies. I'm riding the sugar high and my mind is racing. Maybe we are the harmonica. I mean really we are all tiny atoms in a giant harmonica. Maybe it's not string theory, maybe it's all reed theory! (Sorry, just thought I'd throw that in there for anyone who likes randomness.)
44 posts
Jan 07, 2010
10:43 AM
Nacoran, it's the air that supports the soudwave, not the direction of the wind.
302 posts
Jan 07, 2010
11:02 AM
This is good that you're delving into the subject of resonance, GH, because this is an important and HIGHLY overlooked aspect of harp playing. The average player, unfortunately from years of bad playing habits, often does NOT play very resonantly at all and their tone is often going to be thin.

Resonance in many ways, is much like that of a vocalist, and breath control is one big part of the equation, but also in addtion, how the player is able to manipulate the INSIDE shape of their mouth, plus being FULLY relaxed PHYISICALLY at all times, and they all must work hand in hand to achieve it, and the average player doesn't do enough to get it.

Draw notes to some sound richer because a lot of players tend to play harder on a draw note than on a blow note, and here's another case of how breath control becomes a parrt of this equation and many players are often gulilty of playing with more force on the draw breath than on the blow breath and if they were to carefully record themselves and remember their note playing pattern, they may be quite surprised that they've been doing this.

A lot of players make more work for themselves than they need to when they are trying to learn how to tongue block if they started out using the pouckering method because one of the very FIRST things they haven't learned yet and one of the most IMPORTANT right off the bat is that they have to create a larger amount of space in the inside shape of their mouth to properly accomodate it for the greatest and most efficent amount of air flow, and to make matters worse, they're nearly always going to try and force things to happen, which leads to playing very physically uptight, which then heavily constricts the size of their air passages, and then air gets very heavily wasted, and then they start to get frustrated and begin using a harder breath force to compensate, which is THE WRONG THING TO DO.

Manipulation of the inside shape of the mouth, doing things like forming vowel like sounds, etc., also has a tremendous effect on the tonal quality and also of what's happening, especially in terms of the ability to get a wwide varierty of tonal colors FAR MORE than the gear does.

In many ways, this is much like vocals, and I really began to understand how this all works when I took some vocal lessons and the first thing all the reputable vocal coaches do is check your breathing and relaxation. Why? It's because this all goes hand in hand to how to get to the proper end result and breath control, relaxation techniques, and how one is able to manipulate the inside shape of their mouths for vowels has an ENORMOUS effect on how to vocal tone comes out in the end and how it properly resonates and the entire body is a big part of the resonating cavity as a whole.

Having learned this from the vocal aspect, I've applied a lot of this to the harmonica and I've been amazed at how much alike it really is and how much it improved EVERYTHING about my playing one hundred fold and I never hesitate to recommend that ALL players go to a vocal coach, at least to learn breathing and relaxation techniques from them because these all go hand in hand with everything.

Again, GH, this is really a good thing to discuss because 98% of the average player really never gives these things a single thought and just learning proper breathing and relaxation technqiue along with making subtle adjustments to the inside shape of their mouths equals truly playing very resonantly and the average player has yet to learn that, and they're too often bitching and moaning over how bad they think their harps are or getting too ga-ga over gear and this is an area where they REALLY need to step up their game in order to improve.

When you think about it, the average player tends to be guilty too often of a one size fits all approach, which is totally wrong, and when you really look at things more closely, it becomes obvious that each of these things I've mentioned plays important and very necessary roles to achieve all this, AKA without any one of these ingredients, it's like trying to bake a cake without all of of the necessary and CORRECT ingredients, all of which makes it whole.
Barbeque Bob Maglinte
Boston, MA
CD available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbmaglinte

Last Edited by on Jan 07, 2010 11:36 AM
101 posts
Jan 07, 2010
12:20 PM
@nacoran: It is good to understand that actually the sound goes as loud inside the mouth as it does go outside the mouth - no matter if you are exhaling or inhaling. This is just the law of energy preservation. When you play really loud instruments like trumpet you can actually feel how loud the voice goes inside your mouth. You will feel the vibrations resonating in your mouth and bones. And there are players that will develop some problems with their teeth because of this - the vibrations can be just too much for the teeth. A friend of mine had to stop playing loud wind instruments because of that.

Luckily harmonica itself isn't very loud instrument and thus this won't be a problem for us.
712 posts
Jan 07, 2010
2:12 PM
saregapadanisa- What I mean, I think, is that the angle the air hits the reed from may affect the sound. There is that famous video of the bridge that collapses because the wind hits it at a specific speed, creating a sympathetic vibration. The wind had to be the right speed (frequency) but also hit it from the correct angle.

947 posts
Jan 12, 2010
3:44 AM
I've been reading around the harp-l archives and I'll post what I found below (in case anybody's interested).

However, first I'd like to ask you guys for some help uderstanding/getting the right conclusions from this article suggested by harpwrench:


I don't get it...

Anyway, here's what google produced when I searched harp-l for the term 'resonance':

I agree with moparjoe that it definitely is something that can be worked on,
without a doubt. To paraphrase what Chris says, your natural body timbre is
going to resonate best with certain key harps. But with practice you can
adjust your resonant chamber to be in tune with most key harps. Above regular F
and below low D can be very tough, but my resonant range can accommodate
pretty much any key harp between and including those two. High G can be fun but I
have problems with F# for some reason. Practice with all of them. Sing in
pitch with the harp if you can, even in big falsetto if you have to. What your
throat lungs and diaphragm feel like while you're singing in key is somewhat
in the neighborhood of what they should feel like when you're playing the same
key harp. Tune yourself.

T. Albanese


Rick talks about tuning your resonance to the pitch an octave lower than the desired note in the 10th hole of the higher key XB40s. I recalled the post while reading this thread, and after re-reading it paid close attention to what I'm doing in the top end. I'm pretty sure it's the same technique, and it works well for me. It's also how I play overblows. It feels more solid to me than squeezing them toward the front of your mouth, or trying to suck out the overdraws. You just tune your resonance, and inhale or exhale with the diaphragm- it's that easy (ha ha:)). For example, play the 4 draw bent with resonance, and without changing anything in your mouth try the 7 overdraw. The blow bends and overbends feel like they're focused somewhere around or behind the tonsils to me. Also, the tone/timbre sounds more natural. You don't need a custom harp to do this, just decent gaps. I wouldn't think it ultimately matters if you TB or whatever, but that's what led me to it.

Dave -

You are not wrong about choking the air column. Larry is also not
wrong about the direction of air with the tongue, even if he's not
very forthcoming about what that means.

However, choking may not be the most fortunate word to use due to its
association with extreme and involuntary reactions.

Bending is a matter of creating an independent resonant chamber in the
mouth cavity. This chamber may then be tuned to a particular note. If
the reeds being played are able to respond and bend to that note, they

That resonant chamber is activated by changing the air pressure
significantly at the point that forms the back of the chamber.

The way to do that is to narrow the air passage - i.e. "choke" it if
one prefers to use that term, using either the space between the
tongue and the roof of the mouth, or the glottal muscles.

You probably already know all this; I'm just recounting it for the
sake of completeness.

Where the chamber is narrowed, air flow speeds up and air pressure
goes down. The air in the mouth will move at a slower speed and higher
pressure, hence making for a distinct system.

It is true that any *sensations* of choking, pressure, and suction
should be minimized by the player, along with muscle tension. Here's
where the word "choke" becomes counterproductive.

The narrowing action need to be just enough to set that change in air
pressure in motion. It's a small muscle action, easily accomplished.
The trick is doing it in the right place to have an effect.

Mind you, the change in air pressure will set up a feeling of the
tongue being pulled forward during draw bends and pushed backward
during blow bends. This is a side effect of the contrast in air
pressure. It isn't an activator, even though it tells you that the
activator is in play. It does, however create a certain amount of
msucle tension as the tongue tries to hold its ground. You want to be
aware of the suction/pressure for what it is and accept it, let your
tongue do the minimum to hold its ground with minimal effort, and not
let it generate secondary distress.

You may or may not experience activation of the bending chamber as
redirecting the air over the tongue. All my air goes over my tongue,
so I concentrate on other aspects of the sensation. It is possible to
bend some notes with the glottal muscles without moving the tongue at all.

Tone and resonance are problematic for fundamental reasons. When a
reed is not vibrating at its default pitch, it vibrates less
efficiently. You can see this in mirror playing a reedplate as a draw
note (so that the reed faces the mirror). As you bend it down in
pitch, the amplitude of the vibration visibly decreases.

If your bending technique is of the "hit 'em hard" variety, you may
never notice the loss of volume. If your bending technique is
sufficiently refined that you don't need to hit bent notes harder than
unbent ones, you may notice the loss of volume and the need to adjust.

If the narrowing action is accompanied by struggling physically,
and/or difficulty of getting the pitch to change, one element may be
proper tuning of the chamber. The better your resonance is dialed in,
the more easily the note is persuaded to bend. And the more it will
ring, as the chamber is tuned to the note. Very low notes need a very
large chamber. Moving the activqtion point back as far as it will
work, opening up the back of the mouth - drawing back the soft palate
and throat muscles, dropping the jaw - will help. So will "thinking"
the note.

The easier you can make bending happen, physically and by accurate
tuning, the easier it also becomes to let resonance reach *through*
the activation (narrowing) point into the resonant cavity and receive
the benefit of the extra sounding chamber.

So "choking off the air column" is not at all an inaccurate
description, however unfortunate an image it may invoke. You are in
fact on the right track. Larry is right that your approach can benefit
from refinement. However, it does not need to be abandoned for a
change in direction.


Yes, hand resonance can be difficult to control. BUT, it can be controlled quite finely. Try doing a hand vibrato through the resonance point and you will find it comes in and goes out fast. However you will note that iy doesn't come in suddenly, there is a small window of big variation.

You CAN control this but, If I were you, I would forget about it and just let it happen over time. There are so many resonance things happening in the body and hands that it is best to let the subconscious to sort it out. Yes it is a combination of inner and outer control.
Make certain you can do static resonance...
work on hand vibrato through the resonance.
Use both in tunes... forget about it for a bit
It will happen when your ear KNOWS what the sounds are like!

Very non scientific but ir does seem to work.
Timescale?? a few weeks to months.

Douglas T

germanharpist on YT. =;-) - Resonance is KEY!

Last Edited by on Jan 12, 2010 3:46 AM
105 posts
Jan 12, 2010
5:47 AM
Thank's GermanHarpist. Those very extremely interesting posts. Especially the Winslow's & Douglas T's posts.

Tinus teaches that in overblows it is helpful to learn choking the blowreed and resonating the drawreed separately. That the mechanism is the one of first choking the blowreed and then activating the drawreed. But now that I read those posts I begun to think whether it is actually that simple.

When I reflect upon my experiences on the OB's it seems to be more of a matter of getting the right resonance chamber + airflow established and then the OB pops up. This is a bit different depending on the reed. I can for example play the blownote and then bend to the OB - if it would be mandatory to first choke the blowreed this wouldn't be possible. However, I have also experience that sometimes the blowreed interferes and makes it difficult to reach the OB. But this can usually be corrected by changing the resonance chamber + airflow.

So what I suggest is that actually the harpreeds try to adapt to the resonance that you are producing with your chamber + airflow (static + dynamic) and it even does it by stopping the other reed completely - if it is made possible. In the case of OB's this requires the other reed to "change side" regarding to the reedplate and thus the reeds balance point needs to be very close to the plate - ie. the gap must be close. Otherwise it isn't possible and thus it won't happen.

But the thing is that it is really the resonance that makes the OB to happen, not the technique of choking one reed and activating the other after that. Although I guess it can help to adjust your resonance chambers if you practice also separately how it is supposed to feel when those things are happening.

This brings to my mind a question - is there something that would prevent people to overdraw holes 1-6 and overblow the holes 7-10. I mean the normal bends of course make the other reed to vibrate on the "wrong side" of the plate and thus it would be difficult to throw it to the other side and simultaneously stop the other reed completely - but is there anything that would actually prevent it to happen?
181 posts
Jan 12, 2010
9:56 AM
play a lick on harp, pull the harp away and play it again.. the breath sound, when i do this, is in tune with what i just played.

can you do the whistle where you cup your hands and use the bend of your thumbs as the mouthpiece? You change the tone of the whistle by changing the size of the cupped chamber, so hand resonance is possible as well.
428 posts
Jan 12, 2010
2:26 PM
Resonance of the instrument is certainly affected by the airway shape which effects the length of the airway. The length of the airway affects the frequency of resonance, The tone of that vibration can be varied with slight variations in the shape of the chamber until the pitch falls off in either direction.

With a trumpet, for example, the lips are buzzed into a silver cup that resonates the brass instrument on a fundamental frequency near the one buzzed by the lips. valves are used to lengthen or shorten the frequency of resonance from where you are, within the range of where you are buzzing. The valves are funneling air into different lengths of tubing and where you buzz will work within a range of resonances for the total tubing lengths. You must buzz faster to go higher and slower to go lower than the range you are buzzing in for each combination, but it's the brass that is resonating. You can play sharp or flat by varying your buzz. You can vary the volume with the air passage prior to the lips, vibrato using the lips or diaphragm or even shaking the instrument, but it's still the instrument that resonates.

I always thought the harmonica reeds were doing the resonating and that variations in tone were a result of slight variations off the "perfect" resonant frequency in your air column. Tone variations from cover shape and venting are also a result of actual resonance. Inside your mouth and the rest of your airway, there is little resonance in the soft tissues, compared to your teeth or jawbone. Just pop your cheek with your finger and see how quickly it dies off. However, there is considerable variation in available air column length, especially between people.

Studies have been done over the years that show human hearing causes us to perceive the louder of two otherwise identical sound sources to be "better."

In Music, this often translates into what can be called "presence" or "charisma" or any number of other impressions that carry a positive twist on a touch of extra volume. The ability to vary this volume makes another level of musicianship possible as you vary your dynamics as well as your phrasing and use of empty space.

As far as resonance..I don't have the answers, but have always seen the other things like hand position and wah (trumpet mute equivalent), jaw dropping, tight puckering of the lips, attack techniques, etc as manipulation of the airflow, not resonance of the instrument. Otherwise, the quality and materials of the instrument would matter far less than they do, for all instruments of every type.

The things listed above are what i feel gives the artist "signature" tone and style.

Resonance...my jury is still out on all these ideas...lol.

Last Edited by on Jan 12, 2010 2:31 PM
183 posts
Jan 12, 2010
2:38 PM
From Wikipedia (ok not the best source of physics info, but easy and not wrong)
"In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system (usually a linear system) to oscillate at larger amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies (or resonance frequencies). At these frequencies, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude oscillations."

So I view any changes that get a specific note or frequency to sound louder and more clearly as altering the resonance (oscillation of the harmonica reed) of the instrument. That probably almost completely involves altering air flow. For example, vibrato would be an alteration of resonance to rhythmically change volume or tone
429 posts
Jan 12, 2010
2:50 PM
exactly...to me the harp is the system, since it can be activated with a bellows or a human. Trumpet is a system..i guess the system would always include the activation mechanism, whether that resonates or not...interesting topic.

That's why i think of air column length as varying the frequency slightly either way from the "perfect" fundamental resonant frequancy...off key a little if that makes better sense. Just enough off key to change the tone without the human ear perceiving a pitch change. With a trumpet, the airway in the brass is the more critical and the frequency of the buzz makes more difference to pitch than the airway inside the player. It would be much more difficult to bend a note downward on a trumpet by opening up at the diaphragm than just slowing down the buzz.

They all work together to be sure.
109 posts
Jan 12, 2010
10:13 PM
Actually the system is the whole person with the instrument and even the acoustic environment (including mics and amplifiers) that shapes the sound. The system is completed only when somebody is hearing the sounds - be it the player him/herself or audience.

I have also played trumpet and my experiences are that you can bend the notes of the trumpet similarly as the notes of the harmonica. This means that the resonating chamber you create with your body affects the pitch and not just the valves of the trumpet - they work all together. The trumpet amplifies (resonates) the sound more than harmonica and thus the material and craftmanship has more effect on the sound than in the harmonica. Or perhaps to be more precise (before some customizer attacks me), the difference made by the instrument itself is better heard.

Then the acoustic environment "outside" the player+instrument affects the sound too. The cupping of the hands, mics and amplifiers, the room acoustics etc. I suppose those could affect the pitch too. Btw, has anybody ever experimented played with pitch changing device to see how it impacts the vibrations of the reeds? Is it even possible to play those if the aircolumn coming from the outside doesn't match? (It would certainly mess with your head at least causing you to misadjust your inner resonance chambers..)
137 posts
Jan 13, 2010
3:20 AM
Mikolune, I think you are on the right track! You were thinking about it kind of linearly though. When I think resonance, I think Cathedral not hallway. You can't only take into account the length of the windpipe. Ask any good wood/brasswind musician or singer, tone is all about the diaphragm. You would have to somehow take into calculation not only the volume of your whole...thoracic cavity(?) or lungs or whatever/however would be the most practical thing to measure in this case, but its shape in terms of creating air pressure differences and how the air actually moves relative to those differences (I think). Since the sound is created outside the mouth, I don't think there would be strict acoustical properties directly associated with the shape, by that I mean the bouncing of sound waves off of things inside of you. I still think shape affects it though in terms of...I don't know...ideal compression to achieve a desired tonal result. Am I making sense or a fool out of myself? haha

Resonance is not just about the mouth and hands. Also you would need to figure in something in terms of your sinus cavities. I think if you could figure that stuff out your calculations might fit better. I gave up math a while ago, so I don't even want to think about the numbers haha. I'm much more of a theoretical rather than practical thinker.

Askharp, I don't know if I would really consider the outside environment because you cant control its affect on your tone, and in any given circumstance I think the environment would have equal affect on two different players. Wait, would it makes more sense to say that the environment would be a proportional factor because no two players are going to be equal in their...resonating processes?. It would still impact equally but the result would differ, again in any singular circumstance. Then you get into the constantly changing and infinant amount of circumstances you could run into. My head is starting to ache, I need a cigarette.
430 posts
Jan 13, 2010
5:56 AM
Your lips have a FAR greater effect on trumpet intonation than your airway. You can play sharp or flat with virtually no air or with full force. The buzz is the key ingredient. Notes can be bent, like I said before, by changing your embouchure alone. Blow harder, get louder, buzz faster get higher, buzz slower get lower. I can't remember ever bending a note on a trumpet using breath control. I'll try it later today. None of that is really in question, but I'm not sure how much I really think about any of it anymore on any instrument..lol. I just play 'em.
113 posts
Jan 14, 2010
1:46 AM
I agree that the vibrating device has very important role in the sound producing. I was actually thinking last night that if the resonance chamber would be the most influential thing and reeds would just follow that, then you should be able to make a C-harp 2 hole full step bend with the same mouth + air flow posture that you play some unbent F on some other harp, right? The same note, the same resonance.

But as we all know, the posture with bends is rather similar on different key harps and thus the natural vibration speed of the reed has a big role on the notes. Of course the same should apply to trumpet. In the sax, however, the vibrating device is the same regardles of the note.
67 posts
Jan 14, 2010
4:16 AM
"I can for example play the blownote and then bend to the OB - if it would be mandatory to first choke the blowreed this wouldn't be possible"

Unless I'm misunderstanding what you are saying, I don't think what you are describing is possible. If you are playing a regular blow note you can bend it down in pitch, it will only go down a little bit (around a quatertone or less) at which point it will choke out. Once it's choked out, if you have the correct technique and resonance, the draw reed will begin vibrating, sounding a higher pitch(while the blow reed remains choked out). This is, of course, the overblow. It is not possible (as far as I've ever heard) to play a blow note and then gradually bend it up(or down since the OB is a higher pitch) to the overblow. Once the OB has popped out it is the possible to bend that pitch. This is like/is a single reed bend because only the draw reed is vibrating(the blow reed remains choked out) and changing pitch.

It is neccessary to choke out the blow reed before the draw reed will start vibrating and play the OB, but if your technique is correct these two things will happen at almost exactly the same time. It's not like you must first choke out the blow reed, and once you've done that, then move on to playing the overblow. If you have the right technique it all happens at once and the overblow comes right out.

Sorry for getting off topic.

Edit: I posted this, then I went back to edit some of the spelling and after I'd saved it I noticed half of what I wrote had disapeared. Oi vey, I hate it when that happens. Oh well, I think I managed to remember most of what I had written.

Last Edited by on Jan 14, 2010 4:42 AM
115 posts
Jan 14, 2010
10:45 PM
Ryan, I didn't mean it the way you understood it. I meant that you can very quickly change from blow note to overblownote, which for me seems to prove that it is actually the function of resonance chamber + air flow that does the trick, not the mechanical work of stopping the blowreed first and then getting the draw reed to vibrate on the "wrong side" of the reedplate.

I mean, the blowreed just suddenly decides to stop (ie. adjust to the situation) because there are greater forces in the system that are finding balance in that way. At the same time, and not just after that, the drawreed starts to vibrate for the same reason. This is my hypothesis. :)

Last Edited by on Jan 14, 2010 10:47 PM
1633 posts
Jul 12, 2010
4:48 PM
bump :)


Another thing I should add,.. the right pressure collumn/resonance chamber in your mouth and throat also help to play reeds, that are gapped a little close and tend to choke with a stronger attack.
91 posts
Jul 12, 2010
5:02 PM
Has it ever occured, we'll need to change the way we play...when all our teeth are gone?
Anybody know?
There are always dentures...maybe a new sound...
My choppers are gone, and I have the blues!
don't forget to floss!
1634 posts
Jul 13, 2010
1:23 AM
I don't think that playing without teeth has too much of an effect. Quite the contrary, it helps you to push the harp further into your mouth without having to open it up too much.

IMO teeth are really just a hindrance.
337 posts
Jul 13, 2010
10:21 AM
Interesting thread. Thanks for reviving it GH. I haven't read every word of the above posts, but agree with the premise that mouth shape and resonance are key to good tone (as well as breath control).

I'll also add that this might explain why many of the great harpists are/were also good singers ... to follow up on BBQBob's comments.
1023 posts
Jul 13, 2010
11:06 AM
It's also why I recommend that EVERY harp player go to a reputable vocal coach and take breathing exercises from them and I know from personal experience, it has helped my playing a hundred fold and for vocals, every single one of them are gonna check your breathing and your relaxation abilities because without either of these things happening together in sync, NOTHING is gonna be happening, the harp tone I know for a fact is not gonna be resonant at all and they absolutely HAVE to be working together or everything is gonna sound like total crap.
Barbeque Bob Maglinte
Boston, MA
CD available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbmaglinte
452 posts
Jul 13, 2010
6:12 PM
Teeth actually have quite a bit to do with resonance.

Tongue blocking allows the player to get the holes of the harp into the mouth PAST the top and bottom teeth for a larger, unobstructed resonance chamber.

Lip purse players who use deep embouchure and TILT the holes down towards the throat get the holes of the harp into the mouth past the top teeth which produces a less obstructed resonance chamber than if they did not tilt.

Now,a player who is using deep embouchure, a relaxed oral resonance chamber, and produces all air pressure from the diaphragm and keeps an relaxed, open airway should be able to hit draw bends just by changing the size and shape of the mouth. Precision may be difficult, but the notes will drop if you do it right.

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