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How to Overblow on Harmonica | Step-by-step Beginner Guide

Hello! In today's harmonica lesson I'll give you an introduction to overblowing. You will need a diatonic harmonica in the key of C.

Before you try to overblow

It's really important that you only try to overblow once you've learned the following:

1. Draw bends - can you confidently bend holes 1 to 6 draw? If not, get these right before moving on.

2. Blow bends - can you also bend holes 7 to 10 blow? If not, get these right before moving on.

Using the right harmonica

You don't need to spend a fortune, but the cheapest harps will really struggle with overblows. You need something that is pretty airtight and made fairly well, otherwise the technique will be made almost impossible.

A mid-priced instrument - such as the Hohner Special 20 - will work fine. Traditionally the Hohner Golden Melody has been a popular choice, but these days other manufacturers made great harps for overblowing too. For example, the Suzuki Manji and Olive are great choices, and the Suzuki Promaster will work too. This isn't a personal slight (because they're good harps) but unfortunately Lee Oskars tend not to overblow well so I don't recommend using them for this technique.

Don't be conned by the name

The name 'overblow' suggests that we have to blow harder to get the technique. Although we need to change the pressure we're using, if you just blow like mad then you won't get the overblow and you're also likely to break your harp. Be ready to make subtle adjustments to your mouthshape and pressure, and try to be present and mindful in what you're doing.

What is an overblow?

An overblow is when you achieve a higher note than the natural note of the harmonica. To make this happen, we have to learn to choke the blow reed, because it's actually the draw reed that will give us the higher note. Strange, eh? Let's try to demystify things by looking at how to play an overblow...

Method 1 - The Draw Bending Method

I recommend trying the 6 blow on a C diatonic harmonica. The first method we'll try is the one that I find works for most players, the draw bending method.

First, bend the 6 draw as usual. Now maintain that mouthshape and pressure but switch from the draw to the blow. If you manage to keep everything the same, you should hear the 6 overblow. On a C harp, the 6 overblow is a Bb note (sometimes called A#). If you don't have a reference point for the note, check it against the 3 draw halfstep bend as it's an octave up from that note. This note is higher than the normal 6 blow so if you are hearing something lower than you've not got the overblow yet.

Method 2 - The Blow Bending Method

If the above method hasn't helped you to get your first overblow, we can try another method. This second approach gets down to the nitty-gritty of the technique by slowing it down and taking it step by step.

The Bend

For method 2, we will try to blow bend hole 6 blow. You probably know that hole 6 doesn't really blow bend in the way that holes 7-10 do, but we can use the concept to help us along our way to the overblow. Use your normal blow bending technique and listen to what happens. Take it slowly and you will hear a slight bend downwards. This is good, it means you're on the way.

The Choke

If you keep trying to bend the note lower, it will stop making a noise. This is called the 'choke' and again, it's a good sign. It means that the blow reed has stopped responding, which is what we want to happen because we are actually trying to access the draw reed and make it vibrate at a higher pitch than normal.

The Breakthrough

The final step is to keep trying to bend the note lower - past the choke - even though you're not getting a sound at this point. Do this slowly, because if you go to quickly you'll probably skip past the overblow entirely. You'll get more silence at first, but keep imagining you can get the note to bend lower and lower, and in the end you should get a new higher note pop out seemingly from nowhere. Congratulations, you've played your first overblow!

Keep practising

It takes a long time to get overblows sounding great. Overblowing is an unstable technique which the instrument wasn't built to do, so we're really pushing the boundaries here. It's really important to be patient while you're learning this technique.

Would you like to take the perfect starter course on how to overblow? Learn the basics of setting up your harp for overbending, work through scales and explore how to add both overblows and overdraws to your existing playing.

With the course, you'll get:

  • Step-by-step instruction to get you overblowing for the first time

  • Short lessons in easy-to follow chunks (using a C diatonic harmonica)

  • How to set up your harp to make overbends easier

  • Scales and exercises to add overbends to your playing

Find out more about the course structure here.

Try the Overblow Course FREE for 30 days!

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