2005 P.Missin - Details

Utilising hole 3 blow

On the standard tuned Richter harmonica (and on many of the most common alternate tunings) the draw reed in hole 2 and the blow reed in hole 3 produce the same note. This can be a very useful feature, although many players tend not to make the most of it. In fact, I have even heard experienced players advise beginners that they should _never_ play the hole 3 blow note.

It is true that 3 blow can be somewhat less expressive than 2 draw - you can't slide into it with a bend and it's tough to add substantial vibrato to it, but it does come into it's own in some cases. Actually, in some cases you have no choice about playing it, for example if you want to use doublestops derived from the blow chord, or to make an octave with hole 6. At other times, although the 3 blow might be a little weaker than 2 draw, it can give you a valuable opportunity to release some excess air from your lungs. When I demonstrate the opening riff from "Juke", I usually start it with 3 blow rather than 2 draw. I can't prove that Little Walter played it that way, but I find it set me up with better "leverage" to dig into the 3 draw bend that follows it. You can also alternate between 2 draw and 3 blow to fake the effect of circular breathing.

I've heard many beginners use 3 blow to end a phrase rather jerkily, where 2 draw would have allowed them a nice smooth legato. However, sometimes it might be a good choice to select 3 blow to give some separation to the notes. Here is the opening phrase of an Irish jig called "The Spotted Cow" (with similar phrases being found in several other jigs) played in second position a G harp:

I find that using both 2 draw and 3 blow gives a nice separation to the notes that helps make the phrase sound a little crisper:

One of the most notable uses of 3 blow is in the family of time-honoured American harmonica showpieces that includes the Fox Chase, Lost John and the various train imitations. In most harmonica books for beginners, the basic train pattern is usually given as something like "draw-draw, blow-blow" in the lowest holes of the harp. When I first heard train pieces played by guys like Sonny Terry, Palmer McAbee and DeFord Bailey, I could tell that they were doing something a little more involved and which sounded a whole lot cooler. There are endless variations on the basic patterns, but most of them lean heavily on 3 blow. Usually hole 3 is tongue blocked, then the tongue is lifted to give the draw chord, but it is also possible to play these patterns in the pucker position (as Sonny Terry did, to name but one).

Here are a selection of variations on the basic theme, all played on a C Lee Oskar:

Return to Uncommon Harmonica TechniquesReturn to Main Index