Reply To: Bending Help

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I’m a newbie and I wanted to share some things I’ve learned that might help other newbies regarding bending. It’s a bit long, sorry

My first harmonica is a Seydel 1847 classic, which has stainless steel reeds. Not sure if stainless bends easier or harder than brass reeds but I feel that’s important to mention because I’ve discovered that the reed gaps from the reed plate significantly effect not only the playability of the instrument but also the bending, so I can only assume that other qualities of the reeds would effect bending as well. I discovered this after spending weeks trying to get the #3 draw bend to go down and I just couldn’t make any progress. The #1 and #2 were dead easy, almost too easy to bend as I had to actually try hard NOT to bend those holes.

“A poor musician blames his instrument” –says everyone who has a working instrument perfectly configured that never needs any adjustment.

I took a break and measured the tuning of my harmonica and found that 13/20 reeds were tuned too sharp by about 15 cents on average (some 10 cents, others 25 cents!), so I took apart my brand new expensive harmonica and applied a tiny microscopic dot of epoxy using the tip of a needle to the tip of each of the 13 reeds and remeasured. This tiny amount of extra mass flattened each reed very slightly. I prefer this technique over the grinding away metal from the base of the reed (which is a destructive change rather than a reversable change; epoxy can be filed away or scraped off entirely). Repeat until all reeds are perfectly in tune. I tried to bend again and noticed that I couldn’t bend the #3 hole AT ALL., not even a little bit, not even using my super pinched pucker and super strong draw technique (which sounds terrible by the way but it’s a reliable way to get some sort of bend).

It turns out that my tuning altered very slightly the reed gap on some of the reeds because I used a thin shim to brace the reeds as I fiddled with them. I then took out a dental pick and bent very slightly the draw reed and the blow reed and discovered the following:

1) The draw reeds are on the bottom and should be hanging toward the bottom cover and away from the hole.
2) The blow reeds are on the top and should be hanging into the hole away from the top cover.
3) The gap of the blow reed effects blow AND draw performance, and the gap on the draw reed effects draw AND blow performance. They are both important to each other.
4) Bending is easier when the gap is as small as possible on BOTH reeds without making it difficult to blow or draw. You’ll find that point quickly when you notice a sort of “stickiness”. If the blow gap is too small then blowing will actually seal the gap and no note will come out at all. Same with the draw reed. At this point back off a tiny bit until it starts working again. Don’t worry, you won’t break the reeds with all this fiddling.
5) Bending a semitone involves only the draw reed, but bending more than that will eventually stop using the draw reed entirely and switch resonance over to the blow reed.

I verified (5) using a Q-tip. I inserted the Q-tip into the bottom cover and rolled it over the #3 draw reed to seal it. Then I drew air from the hole. No note came out of it, as expected, that is until I adjusted my mouth, tongue and throat in a new way. I discovered that I could get the #3 blow reed to make a very slight note! It resonated around G#4 which is one semitone above. Progress! It becomes easier to do the smaller the gap, and harder to do the larger the gap. After I reduced the gap of the blow reed to the limit of playability, which changed the resonance to G#4-50c, I then practiced for about an hour until I could make the G#4 note about every other attempt. I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was to finally get bends out of the #3 hole even if I had to play a harmonica that looked ridiculous because a Q-tip was sticking out of it. Good thing no one else was around!

I removed the Q-tip and everything changed a bit. The #3 blow was just too “sticky” especially compared to the #3 draw so I had to expand the gap again (oh no!) but only by a little bit. The muscle memory and technique I developed over the last hour came back and now I’m bending the #3 hole over it’s entire range without much difficulty. I can also do blow bends on some of the holes even though I haven’t got to the lesson yet, that’s how much practicing I’ve been doing trying to get this !@#$ #3 hole to bend.

In conclusion: if you are having trouble bending a particular hole take a look at the reed gaps. Try making the gaps smaller, slowly, gently, on both reeds and see what changes. It might make things easier. If that fails, try the Q-tip technique to isolate the blow reed when learning the extra deep bends.