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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Blow Bends
Blow Bends
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112 posts
Apr 02, 2018
2:23 PM
Hey folks,
I've finally decided to put some serious effort into learning and controlling blow bends after mostly having neglected them so far. I can bend the 8 and 9 on an A harp, and I've actually managed to get the two bends on the 10, but here's the deal:

To get those last two bends, I narrow my mouth until the note chokes, the I apply a lot of force and kinda blow up my cheeks to achieve them (I recall Tomlin has recommended something like that in a video also). Is there a better way to get them? In my experience so far, force has always been a bad thing when playing, so I imagine that there is. Looking forward to any insights on the issue and tips for practising!


Last Edited by SkullKid on Apr 02, 2018 3:52 PM
5358 posts
Apr 02, 2018
5:20 PM
Did you see Michael Rubin’s recent ‘harmonica meatball’ videos?
5 videos, each only a minute or so. 5 clues to blow bending.

I don’t know why the 10 is difficult/different, but it does seem to require a slightly different approach than 8&9.
I can bend 8&9 fluently but the 10 is just never quite as easy.
113 posts
Apr 03, 2018
11:02 AM
I hadn't seen that, but those are some very good tips, thanks! Applying his advice (thinking of your upper lip as teeth, NOT blowing the cheeks Gillespie-style,etc.) instantly made my bends sound better and more achievable - still struggling with the 10 blow half step bend though. I will keep on practising this for 10 minutes a day and see where it leads me. Thanks again, will keep you updated on my progress.

Last Edited by SkullKid on Apr 03, 2018 11:13 AM
5359 posts
Apr 03, 2018
2:00 PM
Over the years I’ve seen quite a few people say the 10 half step is the most tricky bend on the harp.
I’m currently playing a couple of scalar exercises which require it. Playing it as ‘a matter of course’ seems to be helping. Often when I use a 10 blow bend it’s straight to the full step; it’s fairly easy to just avoid the half step and thus never get to grips with it.
I’m ok with blow bends on a C harp, but rather hit and miss with the 10 hole on higher harps. I think the amount of movement required is quite small and becomes smaller as the pitch rises, so most problems on higher harps are about ‘overshooting’ the bend
96 posts
Apr 05, 2018
5:12 AM
I have also recently decided that it is about time I got to grips with blow bends (don't think I will ever have a go at overbends). Like SuperBee this came about because of the need for scale practice.

My experience has been the same as previous posters.

Lower harps seem to make it more accessible. I can blow bend the 10 hole on a LowC Manji but not on a G (so a way to go yet).

At one point the draw reed on hole 10 of the Low C jammed. I opened up the harp to fix it and set the gap a little wider.
Is there something in harp setup for blow bends? If so any advice?

5363 posts
Apr 07, 2018
3:07 PM
Hi Paul, regarding setup for blowbends, the better I get at the technique, the less I’ve fussed about setup.
But, sometimes setup is at issue.
These days I can tell fairly quickly if the harp has a problem but when I was starting out with the technique I couldn’t really say if it was the harp or if I was “just doing it wrong”.

Probably the best way to deal with that problem is to have some choices. For instance, I did most of my blow bend training on A harps, and I play hohner handmades. By the time I got into blowbends I had several A harps. I would cycle through them, and if I found one was giving good results that was good but if I had experienced good results and suddenly having problems, I could try another harp. If I could get it happening on one harp and not the other, I’d start wondering about the harp. If I couldn’t get anything happening no matter the harp, well it could be the harps to blame of course but chances are higher that its me.
This was just a natural kind of process

Specifically about setup, same principles as general setup. You want good balance between the reeds; both reeds in the chamber should be offset about the same amount. The closer they are to the slot, the less air it takes to get a response. Set too close and they’ll choke easier with ‘too much’ air, and they’ll also be prone to clogging with moisture (whether condensation or other wet stuff from the mouth).
When you practice blow bending you spend more time on those reeds than you usually will when you are just incorporating the technique into playing a song, so you might set your practice harp reeds fractionally wider than you would have a performance harp, but that’s a very minor maybe thought bubble I just had.
More important might be to have a second or third harp to allow you to cycle through and keep going if the first one starts being difficult to play. Just moving to an adjacent key might be ok too.

Personally I found those low tuned harps to be not so great to learn on, I prefer A and G. Low Eb I found was getting awkward but that’s likely because I started with A and the range of movement required on a low harp is much greater. I can blow bend my low D big river now, and the 10 half step is relatively easy, so maybe starting there is a good thing. I just stRted on A because that’s where most of the songs I was playing were pitched.

I think if you have sensible gapping and good balanced gapping you’ll be ok. In general I set higher reeds closer than lower reeds but the real test is in whether the reed plays well in general non-bending play. If it doesn’t, it’s likely it won’t perform well in a bend.
If it plays ok, is properly responsive in general play it really should work ok in a bend. Bends do place a bit more stress on the reeds though and will highlight problems such as twists, bad alignment, off-centre placement. This is all more in-depth stuff so no call to go there just now.
98 posts
Apr 07, 2018
9:13 PM
Useful, Thank you

5366 posts
Apr 08, 2018
3:23 PM
Ive been privileged to play some very well-setup harps from well regarded builders. Playing a harp built by Sleigh, Spiers, Zajac, Bouman, Graham, Gordon or Moyer, you can feel somewhat confident ‘this is how it’s supposed to be’. So just taking that question mark out of the process, knowing it’s not the harp, really did help me understand I could just get on with learning to play and not fret about the harp.
There is definitely something about the 10 hole though. Maybe it’s just the range of the bend, maybe it’s the reed dimensions or maybe it’s just practice. As the ultimate or penultimate note, most songs just won’t go there very often so if you practice mainly by playing tunes you don’t get many opportunities to practice it.
I found playing tunes definitely helped me with 8 and 9. That brought me along much faster than the exercises I’d been playing before. But once I developed the facility through playing songs, then I could play the drills and benefit more from those. Layers I guess. Everything builds.
My tunes I found very helpful for high end 1st:
Bright lights big city as per jimmy reed
Honest I do as by jimmy reed
Boogie on reggae woman by Stevie wonder (Ab harp) - try playing with no draw notes above hole 6. In fact, same applies to the jimmy reed tunes. Play the 8 blow bend super flat instead of using the draw note.
Cocaine Habit by various sources. That one I had a tabbed solo example from Australian player Jim Conway, and later found other versions and began playing the melody.
All those can use the idea of playing the blow bends flat rather than using the draw notes. This seems to help take real control over the bends.
How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong is cool too. I believe you can buy a lesson from Adam Gussow on this one, for about $7. Really useful licks which I found helped me find the way around the high end in first and applicable to many songs. The catch is that James used to play it on a C harp which is kinda high but you know you’re getting in when you can do it. You can play it on an A. I’m not sure, adam may teach it on a A

I also think that just navigating the top of the harp in various organised ways is helpful. There are lots of scale exercises in 1st, second and 3rd. All these will eventually help this part of the harp feel more familiar even though you may wonder at the time just what exactly these exercises are supposed to achieve

Oh, I should mention Jerry Portnoy and his triplet drills. Available on his ‘master class’ CD set, basically triplet exercises the equivalent of things often done with draw bends around the holes 3 4 5 in second position.
you can go 9 9’ 8 9 9’ 8 9 9’ 8 for instance
Or with the easier 8’ try 8 8’ 7 and 8’ 8 9
Then 10 10” 9 9’ 8 8’ 7
10” 10 9’ 9 8’ 8 7

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