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Harmonica Lessons: Throat Tremolo

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[MUSIC]
Okay, now I'm gonna deal with something
that is an essential part of every real
blues harmonica player's vocabulary,
which is called the throat tremolo.
This is what it sounds like.
[MUSIC]
And it is unlike any effect
on any effect on any
other wind instrument,
because we're doing it on the inhale for
starters.
You see my Adam's apple
jumping around when I do this?
[SOUND] That's because I'm going [SOUND],
I'm gasping for breath.
Like a drowning man.
[LAUGH] And this throat tremolo sound,
it only works on notes
that you don't bend.
You can kinda make it work
on notes that you do bend.
But for now we're gonna just learn
it on notes that you can't bend.
Because the bent notes already
have a lot of expression on them.
It's the unbent note,
when you're playing the blues especially,
that can sound kind of boring.
And so, if you can
give it this sound,
[SOUND] It's a great sound.
I visualize sometimes a ball
rolling on the inside of a whistle.
And you notice I control
the speed of mine pretty well too.
Some guys do it faster, some do it slower,
mine is just what it is, and
sometimes it is faster or slower.
But how do you learn how to do this?
This controlled gasping for breath?
[MUSIC]
One way is to just play a chord on
the inhale, and interrupt your breathing.
[SOUND] In a regular rhythm.
[MUSIC]
And go back and forth between blow and
draw, just to get used to this.
[MUSIC]
[SOUND] Sometimes if you hear
a recording of blues harmonica players,
where they're doing a hand-held mic,
you can hear all this throat noise.
And sometimes I've been doing
recording sessions in the studio, and
the producer will come on and
talk back and go, Howard,
I heard this weird noise
[NOISE] like a seal.
[LAUGH] I said, no,
that's part of blues harmonica, it's cool.
[LAUGH] But
[MUSIC]
and you do it a regular amount of times.
So that it's
[MUSIC]
That's 16 times, that's a lot.
Maybe do it eight or 12 times.
[MUSIC]
Just so you get used
to [NOISE] get used to doing that.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
And then maybe you could
try it with two holes.
[MUSIC]
And then you
try with one hole.
[MUSIC]
And
then all of the sudden you're doing it.
[LAUGH] It's funny how that works.
I don't know if it'll
happen that easily for you.
But when you're doing it
right, it's not
[MUSIC]
it's
[MUSIC].
The note is going [NOISE] and you're
also hearing [NOISE] at the same time.
So you're never quite
cutting your breath off.
You're gasping for breath, but the air
is going down your throat all the time.
[SOUND]
[MUSIC]
And you hear how deep,
this deepens your tone.
And, because I'm pulling the air
from down here in the old diaphragm.
[MUSIC]
And
you can see my stomach expanding outward.
[MUSIC]
You see my stomach expanding,
it's one continual inhale.
[MUSIC]
And I'm sorta shaping
the sound of my mouth.
You can have a lot of
different tones with this.
[MUSIC]
[NOISE] I'm sorta going [NOISE].
I mean, if you want to.
[MUSIC]
You can sound straight [NOISE].
Think it's more interesting
when I go [SOUND] and
there's a little bit of a bend going on.
Almost kind of [SOUND]
a little bit of that.
And I'll do it on the third hole for
you now.
[MUSIC]
The fourth hole.
[MUSIC]
You can do it on the fifth hole.
[MUSIC]
Sixth hole.
[MUSIC]
Then on the top of the harmonica.
[MUSIC]
You can do it.
Doesn't have the same effect of the draws
up there because the draws are already
the lower note on the hole.
They don't have as much flexibility.
[MUSIC]
Now you're hearing the [SOUND] of my
throat almost louder than you're
hearing the note, at least I am.
[MUSIC]
So
they're most useful on
the bottom of the harp.
So that when you're playing blues.
[MUSIC]
That's a particularly good little
sweeping.
[MUSIC]
Two draw, two draw bend,
one draw, one draw bend.
[MUSIC]
And then.
[MUSIC]
One blow.
[MUSIC]
And also, sometimes when I'm showing you
these things I'll exaggerate and
move my head forward.
When I play,
I really don't move my head that much
when I'm doing the different things.
[MUSIC]
Sometimes I'll shake it around a little
bit, if I'm playing live in front
of an audience I move around more.
But basically it's better
when you're practicing these
things to not move around too much.
Because people have this tendency,
when they're practicing these things on
the harmonica,
to give it a little body English.
Like when a baseball player hits a home
run ball but it's going foul and
they stand there at home plate and
lean over, in like this.
You don't need body English to bend.
[MUSIC]
You don't need to do any of that stuff.
Cuz all the stuff that's doing
the bending and the throat tremolo and
everything, it's all inside here.
[MUSIC]
It's coming in this nice stream from you
diaphragm up through your
chest through your throat.
And I find that when I play a throat
tremolo very well it makes my voice lower.
[MUSIC]
Cuz it relaxes my throat and
[SOUND] everything gets
mellower like this and
sometimes before I play,
I try to see how low of a note I can sing.
And that shows me how relaxed or
un-relaxed I am.
Right now, my throat's a little bit tight,
cuz I've been talking for hours.
[LAUGH] But, this is how the throat
tremolo works, and it does loosen you up,
and it makes your tone bigger.
[MUSIC]
You can hit two notes
at a time with it, too.
[MUSIC]
Okay, that's quite
a bit of throat tremolo for you.
And I would say definitely practice this.
Send me videos of yourself playing
the chordal stuff if you want to,
but more when you actually
get the throat tremolo.
And I'll let you know
how I think it's going.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Okay, well the throat tremolo also can be
used on the blow notes
because when you're playing
blues in cross harp position,
second position,
those blow notes,
it's a little hard to give
them as much expression as the draw notes.
So if you're playing a lick.
[MUSIC]
When I hit that
fourth hole blow.
[MUSIC]
I was gasping for breath exhaling,
and that's not a bad sound for the blues.
[MUSIC]
Same
thing there.
[MUSIC]
I'm doing it kind of exaggerated for
you right now,
just to show you that you can do it.
[MUSIC]
And you can even do it on octaves.
[MUSIC]
You can do these throat tremolos,
not the same,quite exactly the same way,
but they give expression when
you're playing octaves and sevens,
those tongue blocked intervals.
[SOUND] I'm tongue blocking an octave
by putting my tongue on four, and
five, and playing, three and six.
[SOUND] Then two, and five draw.
[SOUND] So.
[SOUND] And that's a great sound.
There's some Blues tunes, like I'm a Man,
where the harmonica part,
just consists of a guy just going.
[SOUND] He's not playing even licks,
the band is going.
[MUSIC]
But the harmonica's not doing that.
The harmonica's just going.
[MUSIC]
And that, is not a guy going.
[SOUND] It's coming from the throat,
it's the throat tremolo.
[SOUND] So throat tremolo can be used
in exhale notes, the blow notes.
[MUSIC]
And tongue blocked octave sevenths.
[SOUND] On the inhale, on the draw,
and on the exhale, blow.
[MUSIC]
So you can give expression to any
note that you play on the harmonica,
whether it's blow or draw with this
interrupted, gasping for breath,
throat tremolo type of technique.
So, if you want to practice that, as part
of throat tremolo and send it in to me,
I'll let you know how I
think you're doing with it.
And everyone sounds a little
different with this stuff,
that's the beauty of the harmonica,
because everyone's mouth and jaw and
everything is shaped
a little bit differently,
everyone's tongue is different, so
that's what makes the harmonica such
a personal instrument is that the
instrument is only part of the process.
[MUSIC]