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Harmonica Lessons: Sound Effects

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They'll hate you if
you do this stuff,
but this is some sound
effects you can do.
The car horn thing is really,
pretty funny.
I'm just bending one and
two at the same time.
[SOUND] This is a B-flat harmonica.
It's a good range for that B-flat and
B harp, it sounds good.
And that's one and two, and then.
[SOUND] That's two and three.
[SOUND] They're both
bent down a little bit.
And I'm trying to keep the interval of
a third because that's what a lot of car
horns are.
[SOUND] Sounds like a very small
Italian car, I think.
[SOUND] Maybe a Vespa [SOUND].
Six and seven draw together,
that sounds like something silly, but
most of the traffic sounds are the thirds,
toward the bottom of the instrument.
[SOUND] And then I can make some blows and
make them sound nasty,
like somebody who's real
angry at someone else.
then you can do three holes [SOUND] and
that starts sounding like a train.
Sometimes you can do [SOUND] and
that's like a boat.
I've actually got three notes going
together, one, two, and three [SOUND].
Or a very large freight
train [SOUND].
And then you have to start [SOUND].
What I was doing there is pulling
[SOUND] using mouth breathing.
I'm not breathing through
my throat at all.
I just got the first two or three holes.
I could do it on one hole,
show you what it sounds like [SOUND].
Here's two holes [SOUND].
Here's three holes [SOUND].
I go [SOUND],
now that's my little drum roll.
Sometimes I'll throw in a percussion solo
when I'm playing in my Latin band and
they're playing
I'll go
And people, where's that coming from?
So these
are just a few of the little, silly
things that I can do with sound effects.
And of course the train, in its simplest
incarnation, is a double stroke roll.
And you could do the double stroke roll
either in cross harp, in other words,
starting it on the inhale.
And sort of phase the sound of the chugga
chugga chugga chugga of
the wheels with your hands,
which is really way a train sounds.
Or you can start it on the blow.
then you can do the train
whistle up on top.
There's a lot of different
varieties of that, and
when you do that train whistle on top,
you get that amazing difference tone.
[SOUND] Which is, wow,
that would go right through your bones.
So the train stuff
can go
So it can go either on the cross harp
inhale or on the exhale.
I'm not gonna get into great
detail here with trains,
because there's a whole other subject.
There also the fox chase where the guys go
And they shout instead of blowing
My voice is too low for that.
there are a lot of guys who do that.
This is some really old style,
traditional harmonica playing,
where the harmonica players were
imitating trains, and hunts, and
all sorts of different things like that.
So I'm just imitating a few car horns for
you, and some train whistles, and
a little bit of things like that.
I use the B-flat harp for this because I
like the way the car horns sound on it.
And then,
there's the coffee mg.
Now, you can use many different
size coffee mugs, water glasses,
anything like that.
And, I got the idea for this, I read in a
book that old vaudeville harmonica players
sometimes use to do this.
So, I started doing this when,
I don't remember when,
maybe in the Flecktones sometime
in the early 1990s, and
the idea is, you hold the coffee
mug like this in your hands, and
you open up your hands so
that the coffee mug provides like a big
resonant cavity that the tone goes into,
and then you let it out.
And, it just makes this amazing wah.
That's way more of a wah than the normal
human can get with his hands.
I mean, I can get a pretty good wah with
my hands, but this is a special wah.
And, I like to imitate an old New Orleans
style trombone player sometimes.
So, sometimes I like to use the mug
with a lower key harmonica,
here's a low F harmonica, for
example, I just pulled this one out.
And, you know,
this low F harp is actually
a little too low for
the size of this cup,
cuz I chose this cup to play with a G.
So, when you choose you're mug,
you have to really, believe it or not,
match the size of the mug with
how low the harmonica is.
In general,
the lower the pitch of the harp,
the bigger the coffee mug is
that you want to play with.
So, it's a very effective sound.
And, you can also use
it like a Harmon mute.
You can use it to kind of sound
kinda like, just sort of eerie.
Like that Miles Davis
song on Kind of Blue.
And, it works really well for
ballads, for jazz ballads,
where you want an especially
poignant sound,
and it makes people kinda lean in and
pay attention to what you're doing,
if you come at them with this sort
of mysterious, kinda muted tone.
And then, you always have the option of
But then, that sounds comic, like all of
a sudden everyone's supposed to laugh.
So, the mug can work both ways.
It can be sort of like
a trumpet Harmon mute,
kind of haunting and distant,
or it can be comedic.
There is one other like silly little thing
you can, you can sound like a crying baby.
Or, you know, a cat.
And that's a combination of going,
eeeeooooww, inside my mouth,
and using the hand.
So, with a little imagination,
you can achieve a lot of
stuff on this instrument,
that doesn't have to do really
with what notes your playing.
It's just sound effects.
You find bends that you think might be
interesting, and combine things from
the inside of your mouth and your hands
together, and you can create some stuff.
That's up on the eighth hole blow bend,
just with my hand,
no coffee mug or anything.
This is on an A-flat harmonica,
it's just the one I picked up.