Pull Slap Technique

Expanding your vocabulary of techniques is a great way of creating more possibilities for your self as a blues harmonica player. In this article I will explain the pull slap technique. I feel it is a great addition to let you shape the sound you get out of your riffs.

Pull slap vs tongue slap

The pull slap is building on the tongue slap technique and it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between them when listening to a recording. The sound will be a little bit sharper and a bit more staccato than the standard tongue slap. The reason for this is that the air flow is fully blocked and an internal pressure is built up before the tongue slap is performed. This pressure is the reason that the chord part of the tongue slap is a bit sharper and very pronounced. The staccato feeling comes from when the holes are first fully blocked before the pull slap is completed.

As you can understand from the explanination above it is a very good idea to first pratctice tounge slaps before mving on to the pull slap. It is also a quite simple extension as the only thing you do is covering all holes with your tounge first.

When to use

You can basically use the pull slap whenever you would use a tongue slap and can be a great way of slightly varying the sound. Sonny Boy Williamson II was a master of this technique. You can hear it in “Born Blind” for example.

I suggest to add this technique to your arsenal begin working it into your riff vocabulary. You can never have too much technique!

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When are You Done Practicing Bending?

Many beginner harmonica players are drawn to the sound of second position and bending. A lot of the cool sounds we all love come at least partly from that combination. When I was starting out I didn’t really know which techniques I needed but I soon found out that bending was important. I remember a lot of frustration practicing bending and I just couldn’t wait to ben done. I had an idea that once I had learnet to bend notes I would be done. The question I answer in this article is: “when are you done practicing bending?”.

Done?

I will cut straight to the point, you will never be done practicing beding. Even the masters like David Barrett and Joe Filisko work on keeping their technique up to par (especially on low tuned and high tuned harmonicas). I think you should see this as something positive rather than something negative. You can always improve and you will most likely improve a lot faster when you are starting out.

The progression

I have previously written about different types of bending and these types can also be seen as steps on the ladder to mastery. The very first type, fake bending, can be accomplished with very little practice. Ornamental bending takes a little bit more practice but should be feasible to accomplish within days of starting. For proper blues and melodic bending you should allow yourself a couple of months of practice before it really sinks in. Even after this point you need to work on expanding the range of harmonicas you can bend on.

Very low tuned harmonicas and the higher range such as E, F and high G require special attention and I suggest you work on those harmonicas when you need them. Practice bending over the entire range of pitches is not strictly necessary unless you use all keys in your repetoire.

Summary

All in all, you will always keep practicing bending as long as you play harmonica. The positive note is that your level of control will improve and your ability to express yourself on your instrument will improve. Figure out what level you need to be at and practice accordingly. Also make sure that you are practicing in an efficient manner.

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Start Tongue Blocking

One of the most infected debate in the harmonica world is the pucker vs tounge blocking debate that has been going on for ever. This article is not meant as fuel for that debate although I am a tounge blocking advocate since a number of years. What I would like to do with this articel is giving you a good foundation start tounge blocking for single notes. I find that some people stay with puckering just because they don’t know how to change.

Defining tongue blocking

First of, let’s just define what tongue blocking is. It is the embouchure where you place your mouth over three or four holes on the harmonica and then use your tongue to block the holes you don’t want to play. What you end up with is one (or more) holes that gets all the air throught the corner of your mouth. You can actually play out of both corners for the octave split but let’s save that for later.

First, no air

To get a good a start tounge blocking you need to be able to control your tongue. This is quite hard for most people as we use our tounges sub-consiously every day. I find that the best way is to start by blocking all the holes at once so that no sound comes out at all. It may sound counter intuitive but it is actually a very useful technique as a base for more advanced techniques. To effectively block all holes you will notice that the tip of the tounge is not wide enough, point the tip slightly downwards and let the top of the tip block instead.

Start tounge blocking, full block demonstration

Block all holes with the top of the front part of the tongue.

Slight leftwards slide

The next step is to open the air flow for one hole. You do this by ever so slightly slide your tongue to the left. This will open up a hole in the right corner of your mouth that will allow air to pass through one of the holes. Don’t worry too much if you get more than one hole to begin with but spend some time finding the sweet spot where you only get one hole. Basically that is it, this is how you start tounge blocking. The sound you hear should be unobstructed and relaxed, no bend in the pitch a full tone. Use the process I outlined before on how to learn new techniques.

Start tounge blocking, tounge position demonstration

Slide the tongue to the left to allow air to pass through.

Common problems

Here are a few problems people run into and how to remedy them

Unable to block all holes

You are probably using too much of the tip of the tounge, curve your toung downwards a bit more to use more of the top of the tounge. It is also a good idea to tilt the harmonica slightly downwards to more easily meet the top of your tounge. You may also be opening your mouth too wide, try narrowing it a bit to cover three or four holes. No more now.

Harmonica tilted against the cheek

In this case you are likely blocking with the side of your tounge, focus on holding the harmonica directly in front of your mouth no tilt. It is also likely that you have tried compensating for not curving your tounge downwards enough by tilting the harmonica. Go back to practicing the full block until you can hold the harmonica with no tilt.

Unable to control the tounge

If you feel that you are unable to control the tounge it is probably because you have no visual cues to build a picture of what is going on. In this case practice blocking all holes without the harmonica standing in front of a mirror and then sliding your tounge to the left. Seeing what you are doing will help you control your tounge and understanding how it should feel.You can also get the Filisko Tongue Block Trainer to get a more complete picture of what is happening.

Put it all together

Once you start tongue blocking I would recommend you to try to play as much as possible with this embouchure. You may need to relearn some songs you have played before but I think it is well worth the effort.