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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Smoothing out tremolo
Smoothing out tremolo
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58 posts
Mar 20, 2018
2:29 AM
Hello all, I've been working on my throat tremolo off and on for about 6 months now. It is still not smooth and it still sounds choppy. The exercise I've been doing is the one Adam describes in his video on throat tremolo (I think the video calls it vibrato). I'd like to get it to a point where it actually sounds musical and not like the machine gun fire that it does now. So how did your tremolo get smooth? Did you have a particular exercise for smoothing it out or did it just happen naturally? Thanks for any help.
105 posts
Mar 20, 2018
5:17 AM
Hey python, I can recommend two videos for you:

Here, Ronnie Shellist gives several exercises to improve your vibrato.

This second video was made by our own Killa_Hertz and it helped me greatly!

Regarding your question of smoothing it out: For me, it became more smooth and automatic one day, after attacking the vibrato/tremolo very slowly and mechanically for a while, as Shellist suggests in that video (I even worked on caughing inwards without the harp in public, under the shower, etc. - it really helps to get controll). The exercise of Adam was also helpful.

Hope the videos will be as useful to you as they were to me.


Last Edited by SkullKid on Mar 20, 2018 5:24 AM
5330 posts
Mar 20, 2018
1:59 PM
Good videos.
I tried the thing Adam demonstrated in his video. I tried it for quite a while, several times. I tried to be determined. It just never got me anywhere. I kept trying because I bought into the idea that if I just kept at it eventually I’d work it out. Never happened.
I did eventually get much better at this type of effect but not from practicing as Adam advocated.
Jimi Lee was giving me exercises for it where we did volume and speed. So there was mid- volume and mid-speed. He urged me to think of 2 radio control knobs. I could turn the speed up or down, keeping the volume steady. Then I could keep the speed steady and vary the volume.
This was about taking control of the 2 elements.
There was no sense of force involved
The next exercises was to increase speed while reducing volume, then reduce speed while increasing volume. JL emphasised that these exercises would teach a lot

But the thing which really taught me something fundamental was when we were doing bending exercises.
He was getting me to bend not only to pitch, but ‘to the floor’. He said I should be able to bend about 50 cents flat; that is, say I was bending draw 1 on the A harp, I should be able to get the Note down around 50cents flatter than Bb. We were trying to make the tuner show a really sharp A note rather than a flat Bb. I could rarely get there but it was a good exercise.
Then one day he said ‘oh, I’ve been showing you 50 cents flat but I should also show you 20 cents sharp’.
And then we went to make the 2 draw play sharp.
The way we did this coincidentally freed up my vibrato and I never felt it was an effort afterwards. It totally took me into control of a different muscle or set of muscles which I’d been either not using or using too much. What I’m saying is that maybe it was more about release of something I’d been holding contracted rather than contracting something which was relaxed.
Sorry, I realise that’s not very easy to follow; it was quite a long time ago. Maybe I have that lesson on video but it would take some time to find it I fear.
59 posts
Mar 20, 2018
8:36 PM
SkullKid, thanks for those 2 videos. One thing I've been trying all along is to practice tremolo on the bent notes as well, so I understand what Killa is talking about there about making sure that the bending effort stays with the tongue and mouth while keeping the throat open and relaxed. I'll keep at it as Ronnie says, increasing and decreasing the speed while keeping the tempo and see where that leads.

Superbee, very helpful as always. One thing I've noticed is that my tremolo sounds a lot more musical when I'm playing much softer. I imagined that this was because I was completely closing off my throat instead of modulating the airflow, it just sounds more natural at a lower volume. Don't know if that makes sense to you. So I'll add speed and volume as further dimensions to the exercises I'm doing. Since I started bending, I've always had the problem that I bend the 2 draw whole step down too flat, so I'm well aware of bending to the floor. One of the best bending exercises I've done (think it comes from Dennis Gruenling originally) is to very slowly go from the unbent note all the way down to the floor (30 or 40 cents above the blow note) and then slowly let it back all the way up. It is a fantastic exercise for improving control. You've piqued my curiosity about playing the 2 draw sharper. I'm trying to play Indian classical music along with blues on the harp, and a symmetric quarter-tone vibrato is a very crucial component of that. I'm nowhere near good enough to even get a normal vibrato at this point, but I'm very interested to know how it is even possible to play a "given" note sharper.

One more question for everyone in general: as your tremolo develops, does your throat still close off completely or does it simply modulate the airflow without closing off altogether?
106 posts
Mar 21, 2018
6:16 AM
Good question, python! I was unsure about that for a long time as well.

Here's a video where Christelle Berton talks about smoothing out her vibratos/tremolos, because completely closing the thorat / cutting the air would sound "too mechanical" (I've marked the time for you):

Carlos del Junco also displays and discusses different increments of choking the vibrato (from smooth to hard choke) before analysing the use of the technique by different players in this (excellent!) video:

I guess it all depends on the sound you want to get. Thats my take on it at this point in my harp journey anyway.

Last Edited by SkullKid on Mar 21, 2018 8:08 AM
5332 posts
Mar 22, 2018
3:01 AM
Pythonbeg, that IS a Dennis Gruenling exercise and i became quite excited when i saw him teaching it and explaining it, because its also an exercise i used to work at with Jimi Lee and had described and advocated on this page. And now I’m excited again to hear that you have implemented and found it beneficial!
62 posts
Mar 22, 2018
7:10 AM
Skullkid, thanks so much for those two videos! I'm sitting here finally having a tremolo that sounds slightly musical. The simple idea of moving it up the throat was what was missing from my head. I still need a LOT of practice with speed, volume and timing but I think I'm finally on the right track.

Superbee, it's worked wonders for my bending technique in general but the best insight I got from doing it is that there are many ways of achieving the same bend. For instance, the 3' bend on a Bb or A harp can be done with the tongue near the K-spot with a dropped-jaw embouchure or with the jaw up and the tongue lying flat. It also rubbed in just exactly why it's so difficult to teach bending. There are a hundred ways of doing every little thing and you can't see any of them. Doing this exercise forces you to stick to one embouchure and restricts the movement to the tongue, so it's also a great way to achieve the "separation of forces" between tremolo, vibrato and bending.

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