As a harmonica musician:
We frequently see in debate forums different postures, both for and against
single hole and tongue blocking. Then, which is your preference in using the
circular or elliptic embouchure on the chromatic Harmonica? And in which
I usually play a lot as single hole. Undoubtedly when I want to play octaves,
double notes or triads, I change to an elliptic mouth. I try not to abuse the
harmonic resources of the instrument because they are very difficult to fit, at
least in a Jazzy context. Sometimes the difficulty lies in that there is that
succession of thirds that you would want to make in which there is an impossible
one (e.g., Eb and G) and without that one, the idea is incomplete. Another
serious problem is the tuning. Chromatic harmonicas are tuned at 442 and in Jazz
tuning is usually made at 440. If, in addition, the harmonica is not in perfect
condition, the chords of 2 and 3 notes are very likely to sound out of tune.
Nevertheless you just have to listen to Larry Adler to see that these "theories"
collapse at once. I believe that Larry is the person who has taken the most
advantage of this somewhat mysterious aspect of the chromatic harmonica.
When you play scales, arpeggios, or musical pieces, do you use only the "C´s"
from holes 5 and 9, or do you also use holes 4 and 8? Do you use enharmonic
notes when you play certain phrases to make them smoother? (that is to say, to
use B# instead of blowing in C or E# instead of drawing F). Could you tell us if
regarding these two topics you use some personal technique?
First of all, I would summarize the three questions in one:
When there are several ways of playing the same note, which of them do you opt
Well, now that I only have one question to answer I don't know what to say. What
a mess! It is difficult to answer this question because it is not only a purely
technical question, but it also has a lot to do with phrasing. If we speak about
phrasing we enter into a very subjective and personal topic in which each master
has his own secrets. Which are my secrets? I don't even know it myself!. I'm
going to play for a while to see if I can find something out... I continue
without having a convincing answer, but I have realized that I more often use
the C5 and the C9 than the 4 and 8. In the holes 4 and 8 I play B #, if I come
from a B (maybe to make the phrase more fluent/tied up?). I believe that the
best advice that I can give on this topic, is that when scales and arpeggios are
studied, different possibilities should be attempted and then each person will
choose the one that sounds better for him and that is easier to play. At least
that is what I did at the beginning. Little by little those decisions become
unconscious, and if it is clear for you how you want play a passage, then you go
automatically to the appropriate C or F. A very important thing is to know in
which C you are. It is useless to say: "Ok, as there are two Cs together, I sure
won't fail". Because if you're not sure about which C you have played, it is
very unlikely that you will find the following note.
The Slide can receive lubrication to soften the movement of the mechanism,
and this reduce the fatigue after many minutes of use. Do you use some?
To make sure that the slide moves gently, and above all, that it doesn't get
blocked, the best thing is that all the parts the mouthpiece assembly is
composed of are clean. A regular cleaning from time to time would be enough.
Sometimes I won't clean it for a long time and it begins to fail. In those cases
what I do is: at the time of playing I put some saliva on the button. This is a
bad habit that of course I don't recommend to anybody, but it can get you out of
trouble at that moment. The drawback that it has, apart from being a "guarrerida
española" is that much of that saliva filters into the wood and in the spring
area. With time, the spring goes rusty and it eventually breaks.
Many musicians of the chromatic use the thumb to move the slide, an example is
Mauricio Einhorn. Others use the index finger. What is your opinion to this
I use the index finger because I was taught this way, but I don't believe there
is a "correct" form of working the slide. I have observed that using the last
phalange of the index finger (like Larry), you have more control of the hand
vibrato. On the other hand, if you use the nearest phalange of the hand (like
Toots), you get less tired and you can get more speed. There being only one
button, I don't think that it is so important with which finger you use to push
Do you apply in some occasions techniques of circular breathing, as some wind
When I was 12 or 13 I was practicing the circular breathing, more for curiosity
than for any other reason. It is a technique that can suit instruments well in
which you only blow. I don't think it helps a lot when playing the harmonica.
Maybe it is useful to make some effects and to "get the attention of the
audience", although personally I believe that it is necessary to escape from
those effects, more appropriate for a circus than music.
The maintenance that the chromatic harmonica requires are constant. What
attention do you pay to yours?
The truth is that I almost don't do anything to them. The regular cleaning from
time to time, I change some valves if it is necessary, and if the spring is
broken and I have some spares I will change it. Apart from this, I sometimes
adjust some reeds that have moved a little. To tune and change reeds is a
subject that I have been postponing for a long time. I'm soooo lazy about this....
When you play the chromatic harmonica, do you use harmonicas tuned in keys
other than C?
Until recently, I have always used a chromatic in C (when I began, 4 octaves.
For 6 years, 3 octaves). Now I am beginning to play with a G and with C tenor.
The reason for the change is that I miss the notes that there are under the
central C, and also the higher notes in the instrument sound somewhat screechy
to me. So I sacrifice high-pitched notes in exchange for low ones.