Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > So much Over-controversey
So much Over-controversey
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Underblown Overpaid
1 post
Apr 08, 2019
6:46 AM
I've been playing for about 2 years now and want to buy a top quality harp, but there's so much controversy around overblowing and especially overdrawing. I don't want to overspend.

My question is: How should I think about these techniques?
Are they generally considered to be core or niche skills?
Should a low-intermediate player even be thinking about them?
Are they as important to master as draw bending or blow bending?
Is overblowing more "useful" than overdrawing?

Thanks folks. I've learned a lot from Adam's videos and this site already & look forward to a lot more.
The Iceman
3813 posts
Apr 08, 2019
7:02 AM
I suggest formulating a vision of what type of player you are aiming to be...

If it is traditional, then the newer techniques are not part of the language.

If it is modern, than you need to consider all techniques....btw, with a good one on one qualified teacher, learning to OB/OD at the same time basic bending techniques are taught takes a lot of the mystique out of those OB/OD.
The Iceman
1935 posts
Apr 08, 2019
8:10 AM

I like it!

I only minimally use the technique. I expect you will get a number of responses that vary widely about the importance of the technique and the level of skill.

I will respond from the perspective of someone who was self taught from the Tony Glover book a long time ago. Tony Glover did not mention this technique and may not have even known of it at that time. I finally sought out assistance after over 3 decades of diatonic playing not even being aware of the technique. After hearing it done I wanted to at least understand it and do it a little.

I believe that overbending can be a useful technique that could be learned along with bending. Iceman has posted about this idea, and I agree. Though I sought help in learning it decades after beginning and after learning to bend, overblows could easily be taught along with or shortly after teaching blow bends. Or you can learn it later.

I have heard extraordinary OB playing and extraordinary bending control used to play the Richter tuned diatonic instrument fully chromatically while playing sustained notes. This was accomplished by skilled players who utilized bending and overbending musically after thousands of hours of practice to learn pitch control in bending and overbending.

Doing this usually involves the purchase of expensive customized harmonicas or through learning to customize the instruments to facilitate the technique.

There is an elite group of diatonic players who can convincingly use bent notes and overbent notes to be almost indistinguishable from the notes they play on reeds without these techniques. There also are those that attempt to play overbent notes in their music and have not achieved the level of control to create convincingly normal sustained notes.

There are some players who use occasional short overbent notes. Some players don't ever play overbends and yet create music that is appreciated by audiences.

You mentioned not wanting to overspend.

Consider your musical goals and aspirations.

Does the music you want to play require the ability to play fully chromatically and convincingly sustain overbent notes on a diatonic?

Could you meet your musical goals by not using overbends or by minimal use of the technique, perhaps using just the 6 hole OB to get a 2nd position flat 3rd, or the 5 hole OB for a 2nd position major 7th as passing tones and not sustaining?

With minor adjustments to reed gaps on a Manji or Special 20, or Crossover, or MBD you can overblow the 5 and 6 hole (Marine Bands can do it, but with everything nailed together you may be adding other repair tasks when you take off the covers). Usually the gap adjustment involves setting lower gaps on each reed in the 5 and 6 hole, though if they are gapped too low you may stop the reed from sounding normally. There is a functional range of gap that will allow regular playing and overbending.

Sometimes, once you know how to do the overbend technique, OOTB harps will give you overblows on the 5 and 6 hole without gap adjustments.

Learning the technique is much easier if your harp is set up for it. I struggled until I used a harp set up to be more conducive to the technique. I believe that at some point it would be worth the expense of having a tech adjust your harp or to buy at least one custom harp that is set up for some overbending. Then you can focus on learning the technique and not worry about the instrument's capabilities.

Answers to above questions:
1) Overbending is a valid diatonic technique that deserves at least a little exploration with minimal initial expenditure. You can gap lower or have an overbend player help you do it. If you want to play music that uses this technique a lot you will need to use instruments set up for it. This means buying customs or getting help learning to work on them yourself. There is a lot of music that can be played well without extensive utilization of the technique.

2) Knowing how to do one or two short overbent notes should be considered a core skill. Extending that to fully chromatic playing of sustained notes that are convincing is in my opinion a niche skill. If the music you want to make demands it, then you may learn the technique to follow the music down that road.

There are other alternatives, such as chromatic harmonica, fully or partially valved diatonics, alternate tunings, or even harp switching, that will let you play notes that are not built into a single Richter tuned diatonic. How you choose to get those notes to make the music you want is your choice. Overbending is one option.

3) I think that a low-intermediate player SHOULD be thinking about overbends and trying out the technique, but not necessarily going whole hog into it and spending a bunch. Dip your toes in the water, but don't jump in completely until you have determined if you want to go for it.

I have heard some overbend players that would sound much better and much more musical if they played plain notes on regular instruments and not stretched their limits to playing unmusical overbends. In practice, go for it. In performance, make the music sound the best it can.

4) You can get by without overbends, but you can play without using bends and blow bends, too. It is worth your time to at least learn the 6 OB. How far you want to take it should depend on the music you want to play. It won't hurt to explore the technique a little. However, no one "HAS" to learn and use overbending in order to play diatonic. Except with very skilled players, just choosing the right key of diatonic can sound much better musically than choosing a key of instrument in which overbending is constantly used to play the song. Constant overbending is often just showing off and not playing to make the best sounding music.

5) I bought a custom harp set up for a 7 overdraw in addition to 4, 5, and 6 OB. It plays wonderfully and is responsive across all the notes in regular playing. I can get a 7 overdraw, but not consistently. I will keep working on it, but I have not really missed using it. Perhaps I will get to the place that I use it sometimes?

The 6 OB seems to be the most accessible and the flat 3rd is very useful in 2nd position blues. For major scale cross harp playing the major 7 on the 5 OB is very useful. For my musical purposes, those overblows have been more useful so far.

If you want to play fully chromatically on a diatonic you will need all the draw and blow bends and all the blow and draw overbends. It will take quite a lot of practice to make convincing music using a lot of these notes, and you will need an instrument set up for the technique. Most music played on harmonica would not require this technique to that extent.

Just my perspective...

Consider your musical goals and aspirations!

Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Apr 08, 2019 10:46 AM
717 posts
Apr 08, 2019
9:45 AM
Hey Doug, Excellent post!!!
Wisdom does not always come with old age. Sometimes old age arrives alone.
96 posts
Apr 08, 2019
10:00 AM
I'd class myself at the same level as the OP. I'd gapped and initially learnt to overblow about 18 months ago. I stopped playing for a long while then about 6 months ago started practicing with tuner and backing tracks to pitch the overblow correctly.

When I first started the technique I thought I'd never get it but with a 20 min practice everyday eventually it came.

Now I can OB 4,5,6 pretty much at will, on all of my harps.

Do you need to? I'd say the 6OB is really useful.

Overspend? I learnt on a GM in D, and an MS Bluesharp in A
10080 posts
Apr 08, 2019
11:22 AM
I think the sooner you get it in your repertoire, if you want to use it, the sooner you'll get and idea of where they fit musically. I wish I'd learned them earlier. I can do them (squeakily) but I never seem to think to do them in a musical context because I didn't hammer them into my basic muscle memory when I was learning notes and intervals.

Thread Organizer (A list of all sorts of useful threads)

First Post- May 8, 2009
2882 posts
Apr 08, 2019
11:34 AM
47 years since I began messing with harps. About 26 years' playing with bands for pay. I would not know an overblow if it bit me. I'm an out of box guy mostly although I have enjoyed some custom harps here and there.

My style has moved some from "just blues" to other genres, mostly roots rock and country with a bit of gospel for good measure. Of course I can bend notes. I also discovered that playing in more than one position has opened up some great options in a given style or song. Notably I have ben finding some cool stuff in plain old first position in some rock material, and also in alt/blues and alt/country stuff, some of which we've written and worked out ourselves.

Third position is a real eye opener too. You can do some amazing stuff in different genres with it as well depending on chord structure of a given song.

So my 2 cents is, if you have a use for the intricacies of more developed playing ie over blow and draw, by all means go after it! But take into account the jillions of players, past and present, who never knew such a thing existed. Consider your idols and heroes and find out how they did what they did and go from there.

All respect to the innovators past and present.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



1427 posts
Apr 08, 2019
1:27 PM
For starters, I’m going to give credit to the Iceman for a philosophy that he has consistently espoused for many years on this forum. Overblows and overdraws are only difficult if you put that self-limiting belief in your mind. It was too late for me the first time I read his thoughts on the subject. I had already convinced myself it was difficult. But I took the advice to heart and was able to convince myself that overblows and overdraws are just like any other bent note. Before then, when I was playing a song and knew that there was an overbend coming, I would tense up and freak myself out, meaning that sometimes the note happened and sometimes it didn’t. I would get angry with myself because I knew I could play them, but I would freeze up in the middle of a song. It is kind of like missing a 2-foot putt – if you are a golfer. You can over-think this stuff. I’ve managed to convince myself that they are no big deal and I am much the better for it.

The value for me of being able to play overblows and overdraws is that you can play melodies anywhere on the harp – not just I the upper register where none of the notes are “missing”. You can also duplicate licks in the middle of the harp that you typically only play on the bottom of the harp via draw bends. It just gives you more tools to work with.

As a custom harp builder, it would be easy for me to say that you need a custom harp in order to be able to overbend. That is not entirely true. A custom harp will help you develop the muscle memory, but if truth be told, if you know how to overblow, you can overblow just about any decent stock harp – Marine Bands, Special 20s, Golden Melodys, Manjis, etc. If I am leaving out your favorite harp, that is not an intentional slight. You can even overblow cheap harps, but you will get the accompanying squeal that is less than desirable. All you really need to do is adjust the gaps a little and you will be able to overblow any good harp. Overdrawing is a little more touchy – not because the technique is difficult, but because you are dealing with very short and thin reeds on the upper half of the harp. The slightest change in the gap or shape of the reed will have an impact.

Bottom line. It isn’t as hard as you think. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on expensive harps. That said, why not learn to play all the notes on your harp?

Tom Halchak
Blue Moon Harmonicas
Blue Moon Harmonicas
258 posts
Apr 08, 2019
1:40 PM
I also wouldn't know an overblow if it bit me.
If I'm playing any it's by coincidence.
but a big believer in learning as much or many techniques as possible, sooner or later I'll want a particular note only possible with an overblow/draw whatever, but it hasn't happened yet. We just made up our song list of 68 songs at this point., so as I say haven't missed em yet.Some disagree but the more you learn the more you can use various techniques to flavor your songs to your hearts content.
Good luck..have some fun..
Underblown Overpaid
2 posts
Apr 08, 2019
2:33 PM
Thanks so much guys. I'm going to study a bunch of vids and work on 6OB. It *is* another tool and nice to know even if I play mostly traditional.
...or is it Overblown & Underpaid?
John M G
300 posts
Apr 09, 2019
5:00 AM
I'm around 2-3 years down the track with overblowing and overdrawing. Youtube tutorials were the answer for me to get going.
I really like Jason Ricci's playing so I had to give it a try. My inspiration was Jason’s “515 (unreleased)”. There's only one 6OB in the middle solo at the 2:22 mark when he's in 3rd on the Bb. Then on the outro there's a 6OB at the 4:21 mark and a 4OB at the 5:01 on a regular F.
Those 3 notes have inspired me and also cost me a fortune!
I tried all sort of out of the box harps. Seydel 1847's, Hohner Crossovers, Hammonds, Promasters, Firebreaths, and my faithful old Lee Oskar harps.
I got my first 6OB after a lot of effort and then like everything new became progressively easier the more I practiced. Depending on the harp I can now hit 4 and 5 OB’s and 6 OB’s reliably and 7, 9 and 10 OD’s on the lower harps. I’ve never been able to get a 1 OB
There simply is no substitute for a well set up harp. I now have harps from Joe Spiers and Tom Halcheck. These are fantastic harps and I use them when I want to play reliable OD's and OB's
I now have a Low F, G, A, Bb, C, D and F custom harps
With the benefit of twenty twenty hindsight I should have started out with custom harps. It would have been much cheaper with guaranteed results!
As to using overblows and overdraws as it's been said many times. There are great players that have never used the technique.
5871 posts
Apr 09, 2019
6:23 AM
Is it controversial? Maybe you’re right, I do recall some silly discussion about it. I think I personally settled with myself and don’t find it controversial at all.
At first I probably felt a bit inadequate about it. Then I learned to do it a little bit, not really well enough to use. And I thought, who cares, so what, big deal.
Then someone asked me to setup a harp for them to play overblows. I tried but since I was quite poor at it, I wasn’t really sure I’d done an adequate job so I could not fulfill the request.
Jimi Lee told me the overblow 6 was much like an 8 blow bend.
This is when I decided to work on blow bends.
When my tongue blocked blow bends were working nicely I returned to the 6ob and found it was much better.
I kept working on harp repairs and found I could often get overblows from fairly stock harps once I’d adjusted them to what I considered an all round good setup for a moderate breath force player. I’m not a light breath player but certainly not as hard as most of my repair customers.
I also have a few customs I’ve purchased to help me understand how a well-set-up harp should perform, and I have been privileged to repair quite a few customs belonging to my clients. So I think I get how the overblows are supposed to work. I am not up with the overdraws though, 7od on a G is about what I can do.
Anyway, with all that I got some Spiers stage 2 harps which I believe are the best harps I have ever met, and I thought I was gonna get fluent with 4 5 and 6 overblows, then along came this old school pre70s style Chicago style band and I just kinda gave it up, except for the 6. Then Paul Oscher, who was maybe the main person who used that 6ob fairly regularly, came out and talked about how he stopped doing it and why and being an impressionable young fellow, I took it to heart and being a copycat at heart, I stopped working on it.
Then just this year I started working up a version of Watermelon Man and noted A Gussow playing it with that 6 OB and I thought maybe here is a place I could incorporate it and start to normalise it’s use in my playing. And for a few weeks I did, but now I’ve reverted to playing the tune in the lower octave. And then we played the song in rehearsal, agreed we liked it, then didn’t rehearse for a month and I forgot about it while I concentrated on the chromatic which I’m still doing.
Must get back to watermelon man.
We are changing up the set lists a bit.

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