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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > FNG here with questions about vibrato
FNG here with questions about vibrato
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1 post
Sep 26, 2020
10:28 PM
Hello, I am new here, this is my first post. I am mainly a guitar player but have played harp for a long time. When I first picked it up, I learned to play single notes by lip pursing, and got to where I could scoop the 4 draw decently.

That got me by well enough for decades, but in the last couple of years I’ve finally been finding time to work on it some more, especially during the pandemic. I am doing pretty well with bending on 4, 2, & 3, even 1 sometimes, after downloading some of Adam Gussow’s lessons. Developing a good throat vibrato is the next big hurdle. In the past I always achieved a lame effect that bore a slight similarity to vibrato by just sort of wagging my tongue inside my mouth while playing.

I’ve watched more YouTube videos than I can count giving instruction on throat vibrato. Mostly it has been seeming to me like those videos are leading me to a decent tremolo, but nothing more. Finally it was Tomlin Leckle’s (sp?) video that did something else for me. He instructs you to try the “ah-ah-ah” coughing type of thing while bending the 3 draw a half step.

So now I guess my main question is, am I on the right track here? I made this quick video of myself struggling with it:

Do I keep forging ahead in this direction until I get more control and a better sound?

I also tried working with this guy’s lesson, but can’t seem to get everything working as he describes:


Anyway, curious for any tips on what I’m doing, and for any stories anyone else has on how you made a breakthrough.

Last Edited by stephenmp on Sep 27, 2020 3:55 PM
109 posts
Sep 27, 2020
3:26 AM
I'm no expert and I've only been messing around with vibrato for about a year.
But I'd say you're on the right lines.
What I've noticed is the more I've practiced the "internal cough" on blows and draws is the harsh stacatto edges are slowly disappearing and what I've currently got is a vibrato that is smoother with less effort. (Hope that makes sense)
The part I've yet to crack is tempo control
369 posts
Sep 27, 2020
3:09 PM
I’m finding vibrato to be quite challenging. As well. Like bending was. Competence may take awhile, but we gotta keep practicing.
2 posts
Sep 27, 2020
4:01 PM
Thanks for the feedback and the commiserating, everyone. Yeah, it’s hard to be patient with stuff like this. The idea that it could take years to really get the vibrato working well is kind of daunting. But what else is there to do?

Smoother would definitely be good, I’ll hope the staccato quality rounds off a bit for me too. Although if I could choose one player’s vibrato to imitate perfectly, it might be Howlin’ Wolf. His was just so intense. Not the smoothest, I suppose, but a lot smoother than what I’m producing right now.
6826 posts
Sep 27, 2020
9:28 PM
I think you have got something going on there, but I'll tell you what I really think about vibrato.
I think it's a skill which doesn't develop independently. I think you need some fundamental foundation skills in order to really get a great vibrato going.
If you are still working on bending, to me that indicates you may not have full control of that vocal tract,for want of a better term, which is involved both in bending and vibrato. Vibrato is really just rhythmically pulsed bending, so it helps if you have great control over that part of your body.
I think Gussow made a video in which he advocates taking whatever approximation of vibrato you have and hammering away at it daily for however long it takes until it smooths out.
That really didn't work for me. I also don't like that imagery of the inward cough, which seems rather too harsh and uncontrolled. A cough is like a sudden spasm whereas I think the vibrato is more of a pulse. Maybe the same or closely aligned muscles involved so it can give an idea of the body parts you are seeking to control but the control involved it's different I think.
Also though, my own skills at vibrato are rather under developed so probably take my advice with a large grain of salt.
I was doing some review of lessons I took 8 years ago and the emphasis was heavily on breathing from the glottis and having control of that soft palate area, being able to bend the 1 draw of an A harp down to 50 cents flat of the Bb note and hold it down there, being able to go from unbent to all the way down and back up in one smooth trajectory with no jumps, and also on not bending the draw notes unintentionally, which is a kind of tricky thing to describe but something which you become keenly aware of when you are tuning lots of harps for people.

Anyway, I think that's mainly where my head is at on this topic.
Last night I was talking with my son and his friend. The friends related a story about hearing a guitarist play something which impressed him, and how he approached the guitarist and asked him to teach him the song. The guitarist refused, on the ground that first the student needed to learn the skills to be able to play the song, which would take him a year if he was really committed.
I think vibrato is a bit like that
110 posts
Sep 27, 2020
10:34 PM
I'd also say that the "cough" method appears to produce tremelo rather than vibrato. At least to my ears...
365 posts
Sep 28, 2020
12:43 PM
Vibrato..the dreaded thing singers try to avoid to much of.
I was surprised one day when my teacher said not to forget to add a little vibrato one time. So I guess it's pretty subjective a little bit goes a long way. Some folks like a lot of it others not so much.

stephenmp, yours sounds fine to me or at least mostly headed in the right direction.

Interesting you mention the tongue wag thing, That's a good thing to keep in your bag of tricks from time to time. Every little thing you know or learn comes in handy esp when you want to distinguish yourself from others.

Good luck with playing..have some fun with it all..
3 posts
Sep 28, 2020
8:48 PM
Thanks for the additional feedback, everyone. SuperBee, I should have been clearer about this: I am pretty pleased with where I am as far as bending. I don’t think I’m jumping the gun here. But I appreciate your perspective. I wish I had heard someone describe harmonica vibrato as “rhythmically pulsed bending” sooner.

Gussow might have more vibrato videos out there than I know of. I watched one of his where he basically prescribed the “ah-ah-ah” thing, saying to do it on a draw note for 7 beats, then exhale on the 8th beat. He says to spend 5 minutes at the start of every practice session doing this, then 5 more at the end, and to just keep working on that “until you learn how to relax,” or something to that effect. I was doing this for a while and felt like I wasn’t making any progress, and then watched the Tomlin video and felt like I made a little breakthrough. So yeah, like Gerry says, the coughing thing was just producing tremolo for me.

Spderyak, I almost didn’t mention the tongue wagging, out of embarrassment! Maybe I will mess around with it more in the future.
6827 posts
Sep 29, 2020
2:19 AM
Okay, I see. I misinterprated your description of your bending skills. When you said you are doing pretty well with bending "even on 1 sometimes" I gathered it was a bit hit and miss.
Yeah, that sounds like the video I remember from Adam. I really wanted it to be just a matter of determination and doggedness, but I always ran out of those qualities after a couple weeks (or 10 days... Or a week).

I also ran out of steam on that line about the lessons and bending control, and failed to bring it into the platform. Where I was going with that was that those sessions lead directly to the point of progress with the vibrato. I started to review the lessons thinking I might find the actual moment but there are hours of video and it's often less than riveting viewing, and also rather cringe worthy so I bailed.
It is memorable for me though, because it's been trying the Gussow approach for quite a while. I kept going back to it because I was certain my lack of progress was just due to my failure to stay the course. Then one day after doing all this very detailed breathing and throat control exercise, JL made me play a real vibrato in the space of 20 seconds.
I have always attributed it to the fact is been working out the necessary equipment for long enough that I now had the necessary control, which I was lacking before. Hence my hypothesis.
111 posts
Sep 29, 2020
8:56 AM
Following your post, I was inspired to revisit vibrato practice and have done a couple of hours with drum beat in my DAW and there's been a definate improvement.

Have to say the harmonicas biggest weakness is that it's all internal. You can't point at it and say do that.

But I never thought I'd get overblows, however I can now get them without thinking about it.

The trick I feel is to make sure the technique is correct before commiting to the practice

Last Edited by Gerry on Sep 29, 2020 8:57 AM
5 posts
Sep 29, 2020
12:03 PM
Ah yes, I did say "even 1 sometimes" -- it's not that I can't bend draw 1, but I do find it a bit difficult. Like, I have to really be ready and it feels like it's hard work. But 2, 3, & 4 are all working very well.

I should probably know this, but who is JL?

Great idea to practice the vibrato with a drum machine.
6828 posts
Sep 29, 2020
1:50 PM
Ha. No, that's my bad. Sometimes it takes me a few tries before I actually post. That's happened here and I've confused what I was thinking about with what I actually posted.
There's a player down in Austin TX named Jimi Lee. That's JL. I suspect he is probably still busy teaching harp online via zoom.

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