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December 2007 · Bimonthly

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Chromatic for Diatonic Players

Multiple Embouchure, Part 7: The Outside Shift

by Winslow Yerxa

Imagine you could glide up and down the mouthpiece of your chromatic, hitting notes out of either side of your embouchure at will as you constructed long sweeping lines and cascading figures that soared far beyond the plodding hole-by-hole lines that have kept harmonica players earthbound.

This series has been moving in that direction, step by step. Gotta crawl, then walk, then run, then maybe grow wings and fly.

Growing wings is an intensive business, and it takes more than wishing real hard. If you've worked on al the embouchure techniques we've explored so far, you should be developing a little moustache of feathers by now. Maybe a soul patch, too.

Last time, we worked with the pivot point, where the old embouchure location shared one hole in common with the new one.

Let's move things one step farther apart. Now, let's shift the embouchure completely outside the old location by just one hole. Like this:

Click here to hear it 16-x1.mp3.

We're moving the melody note eight holes, but we're only moving the embouchure four holes. Nice, but how can you tell how far to move your embouchure? Four holes may be less than eight, but it's still a big move to make accurately.

This is where the step-by-step part comes in.

The Inside Connector (the outside handoff)

Let's try moving the holes played at the inside connection between the two embouchure placements, instead of the outside, like this:

Click here to hear it 16-x2.mp3.

This outside handoff hands off the note to a new embouchure placement that is completely outside the previous one. In the Part 2 of this series (February, 2007) we saw the inside handoff, a handoff where the two embouchures overlapped by two holes, and in Part 6 of this series (October, 2007) we saw the pivot, a handoff of the same note (or a different note in the same hole) to an embouchure that overlapped the previous one by just that "pivot" hole. So this is a logical step forward.

That's nice, I hear you say, but why bother shifting your entire embouchure four holes just to move the melody by one hole? But by focusing on the part that's a close, tiny step, you can accurately deliver the part that's a huge leap. This little thing is the key to the big thing.

Now let's focus on that tiny step. It's small but it's very counter-intuitive. Alternating between Holes 4 and 5 normally wouldn't be a corner switch at all. You'd just play out of one side of the tongue block (or even pucker) and just shift your embouchure one hole instead of four.

So let's try doing this weird, seemingly useless, counter-intuitive move (I know, you're softly cursing me under your breath and wondering why you trust me. Me, I'm smiling and chuckling where you can't see or hear me.)

Here's the exercise. Be sure to play the low note out of the right side of your mouth and the high note out of the left side after shifting your whole embouchure four holes to the right. Keep doing it until this insane gesture seems normal:

Click here to hear it: 16-01.mp3.

Now, let's try putting that move in the middle of that eight-hole sweep. Step by step, it looks like this:

Here it is written out with all draw notes, first ascending as shown above, and then descending:

Click here to hear it 16-02.mp3.

Playing this sequence in this location with blow notes is problematic because the double C's can mislead you, so let's move the whole sequence up two holes. First, the isolated outside handoff between Hole 6 and Hole 7:

Click here to hear it 16-03.mp3.

Now, the longer sequence:

Click here to hear it 16-04.mp3.

The Outside Leap

Now, let's take the exercise we just played, but play it in just one direction and then repeat it. First, repeated upward movement:

Click here to listen 16-05.mp3.

Now repeated downward movement:

Click here to listen 16-06.mp3.

Notice that every time you repeat the upward movement or the downward movement you make the full outside leap between the left side of the leftmost embouchure placement and the right side of the rightmost embouchure placement.

Let's go back and do the same thing with the earlier draw-note exercise.

Repeated Ascending Figure:

Click here to listen 16-07.mp3.

Repeated Descending Figure:

Click here to listen 16-08.mp3.

Widening the Inside Connector

So far the inside connector, the two inner edge holes where we shift the embouchure, have been in neighboring holes. Now we'll move them farther apart, like this:

Note that we've switched from a four-hole embouchure spread to a three-hole spread. This technique can be used with any size of spread, but it's easier to start with this one.

Let's try moving back and forth between these two positions using draw notes:

Click here to listen 16-09.mp3.

We can even extend it over all three octaves of a 12-hole chromatic:

Click here to listen 16-10.mp3.

When we do this with blow notes, a three-hole spread will always include a C, which introduces the double-C problem. Try to be mindful of this and keep your spread locked in size as you move it up and down the mouthpiece.

Blow notes over two octaves:

Click here to listen 16-11.mp3.

Blow notes over three octaves:

Click here to listen 16-12.mp3.

Do you realize you made several hidden one-octave leaps? Look at just what the left side of your embouchure did: all octave leaps. Same for the right side. Every time you moved your embouchure, you moved it an octave. But this was disguised by the inside connector notes. (This is also true of the exercises we played before widening the inside connector.)

So all this fancydancing with inside connectors and corner switching can't completely save you from having to make large, naked leaps. But it does two worthwhile things:

1. Inside connectors make wide leaps easier to learn and execute by giving you reference points that are either inside your immediate grasp or close enough to gauge accurately.

2. Inside connectors give you ways to play all sorts of fancy stuff along with the wide leaps and still play with poise and accuracy - and have more fun.

Next time, we'll look more closely at inside connectors and come up with some tunes that use them.

Notation Key
Please visit http://www.harmonicasessions.com/feb05/ChromaticTab.pdf for a notation key.

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