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Making the diatonic versatile #2
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Making the diatonic versatile #2

Uploaded on Mar 5

Technique

Harmony the New Key (The Coupling Method)

From the beginning, design predetermined the diatonic harmonica’s creative boundaries. Although, techniques like bending, over-blowing and position playing have expanded the instrument’s flexibility, its overall versatility is in a stall. The invention of a new method for playing, Coupling, has come to the rescue.

NOTE: This illustration has some errors in the third octave. The arrows starting at hole seven on the top (B flat) harmonica should begin thus: Seven blow, eight draw, eight blow, nine draw, nine blow, Drop down to the “C” harp and blow nine, draw ten, move back up to the (B flat) harp and blow ten. These illustrations were redrawn and colorized. The mistake happened somewhere in this process, but thanks to my good friend Ted Nation it was brought to my attention. Thanks Ted!

Chromatic ScaleThe Coupling Method features harmoniously tuned diatonics joined together.  Coupling, in harmonious key arrangements, not only fills out the diatonic scales, but simultaneously enables complementary chord options to the musician. This creates unique possibilities for chord accompaniment while playing melodies. Even the best professionals are restricted. Outside of a few familiar genres, the diatonic harmonica was mostly played as embellishment. Within the diatonic’s specific tuning, most chord maneuvers inevitably result in mere musical accents. Coupling will redefine the instrument’s capability through new harmony options.  Until now, harmony was attained primarily on the diatonic by playing in the cross position. Now, there’s an unexplored world of versatility for the diatonic harmonica due to  Coupling.

The Chromatic Design (chord-less)

Full Diatonic ScaleThe standard 12 hole chromatic harmonica has two separate key tunings, yet it makes little use of chords. The chromatic combines its two separate tunings in a successive key order, C, C#, etc., virtually nullifying chord operation for harmony effect. The chromatic harmonica introduces new notes and chords by actuating the slide, but its draw chords are of little value to the musician. It’s like pressing two white keys, exactly next to each other on a piano keyboard; an inharmonious tone is emitted; now skip a key on that keyboard and listen… This is the musical principal from which Coupling works…

Major Key Coupling formula

G………..A                       C…………D
flat….flat                 D flat…..E flat
A………..B                        D…………E
flat….C                        E flat……F
B………..D flat                 E………….F sharp

Method or Madness

Why is the Coupling Method superior? Answer: Because it enables the diatonic musician to play what was previously impossible, embellish it with new notes, incorporate harmonies, play additional chords, have a more full sound and finally, not merely compete with, but in some very notable cases out-perform instruments that have full chromatic scales. For instance, the above video (Come all Ye Faithful),  “Adeste Fideles” features a uniquely nimble  position for the diatonic musician in all octaves and supports it with new chords. Neither diatonic or a chromatic harmonic could duplicate such rendition of this Christmas classic!


To illustrate the magnitude of what coupling does, envision a car that can change direction without slowing down, maneuver like a motorcycle. There isn’t any diatonic harmonica musician, past or present, that can come close to the level of versatility that can be achieved through the Coupling MethodNobody! No one! Zip!  

A common misconception: speed= ability  I can’t help but cringe when somebody is acclaimed simply based on the number of notes they manage to jam inside a measure of music.  As I peruse some diatonic demo’s on u-tube there appears to be an inordinate number exercising various speed rifts in order to convey their “ability” . Speed does have its place, but it can get old rather fast… The Harmonica Doctor

 

 

 

Date →
Jul 22
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21 Comments

  • Ave Maria player :) Says:

    Can you attach them with a hinge? I think it can give some versatility (pucker ơr wide embouchure, and for convenient storage).
    I’m learning your method, and give some modification to it:
    http://vietnameseharmonicafreshman.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/gan-hai-ken-blues-vao-nhau-bang-ban-le/

  • bill Says:

    I saw what you did. I Love it! We should have a conversation. My number is 1-517-287-5332. Sorry I can’t speak Vietnamese, so if you rather do this via e-mail, write to harmonicadoctor@gmail.com Thanks for your comment and your work.

    Bill

  • Ave Maria player :) Says:

    I should have said thank you to you, not you would 😀
    Were there any differences if you would add the minor-key coupling formula?

  • Jesse Says:

    I love your idea Bill, but don’t fully understand what exactly are the pairings that fit together. Was the illustration at the bottom suggesting to pair a C to a D diatonic? Ave Marie’s idea is an excellent one. Would you not need something like felt or leather to seal in between to keep down air loss? Jesse. Boleo53@hotmail.com

  • bill Says:

    Yes, the formula at the bottom of the page for the major diatonic harmonica will give you a new instrument! G with an A and so on… I like Ava Marie’s idea too. As a matter of fact, Ave Marie has inspired me to post an audio of my method for his name sake. Soon I’ll be posting a video demonstration of two permanent ways to secure harmonica pairs. The crude ways e.g. tape will do in a pinch, but for long term use you’ll want a more secure arrangement. Thanks Jesse.

  • A harmonica player :D Says:

    I’ve just seen your ‘Ave Maria’ performance with the coupling method 🙂 Very fresh, new and beautiful to me 😀

  • bill Says:

    Thanks!! You were part of my inspiration (sound Cloud) for putting the coupling method to the song. Ave Maria!

  • A harmonicist Says:

    You’re welcome 😀

  • Steve Harrison Says:

    The easiest way to attach a pair of harps is probably to place a couple of lumps of Blu-tac or similar (the stuff that you use attach posters to walls without damaging them). I think that this idea was originated by Pat Missin. I have long used this method to couple harps a fourth/ fifth apart, eg D and G.

  • bill Says:

    I agree, if you’re a part time coupler blu-tac is for you. But, I play the twenty hole diatonic exclusively. Blu-tac won’t be adequate for those that want to play coupled harmonicas full time like me. As I stated there is more than one than mechanical way to fasten diatonic harmonicas and if you’re like me you will want something more permanent.

  • panamharp Says:

    Bill – Nice website. Great playing. A couple of questions:

    1. How is coupling functionally different from switching harps or stacking harmonicas (other than being a permanent arrangement) ?

    2. What do you mean by:” Until now, harmony was attained on the diatonic by playing in the cross position.” – Not sure I understand that.

    Thanks

  • bill Says:

    Thanks much for the compliment,

    When you couple two diatonic harmonicas together a full step apart on the chromatic scale you’re actually creating a new diatonic instrument; one that introduces many new options for the musician. To use this method you must play the two as though they are one. Learning this method will put you among the world’s mot versatile diatonic musicians. Let me give an example: Sentimental Journey, Up A Lazy River and Peg of My Heart, and a thousand others, are traditionally songs played on Chromatic harmonicas primarily because of the degree of difficulty they pose for the truncated scales of the diatonic. With this method you can play those songs and embellish with the original acoustic diatonic style, a very unique sound.So, Functionally you do not separate these coupled pairs. It would be like taking most of the black keys off the piano. This is not a chromatic substitute. Although you will now be able to play many songs that were once exclusive to the chromatic; think of it more as a diatonic harmonica on steroids This is an instrument that has its own very distinct musical abilities, a sort of cross over instrument.

    When you play in the cross position you’re using a lot of harmony notes because you are tuned steps away from the key the song is actually being played in. If you need or want the 440 bolts I use to couple with. e-mail me at harmonicadoctor@gmail.com Thanks again.

  • panamaharp Says:

    Bill – Thanks for the quick reply. If I understand you correctly, playing multiple diatonic harmonica at the same time is not really something new (there are numerous examples all over the place), but what you are advocating is the use of two harmonicas one step apart in order to supply the “missing” melody notes over the three octaves of the diatonic harmonica. Obviously, as you stated, not a replacement for the chromatic harmonica since you would still need a number of coupled harmonicas to accommodate different keys. But the payoff is greater melodic freedom within that key, plus ability to get all the expressive diatonic bends. Am I on the right track here? Also, are you primarily thinking of 2nd position for the coupled harmonicas?

    I’m still confused regarding the …harmony was attained on the diatonic by playing in the cross position… statement. Maybe I need a better understanding of music theory, but seem to me that the missing harmony notes are supplied by bending and overblowing regardless of the position.

  • bill Says:

    I’ve listened to the experts on bends and overblows. The conclusion: it works well in theory. The problem with relying on bends and over blows on stage is they’re not stable enough to constitute a true remedy for the stubby scales of the diatonic. Even the people hailed as the best at it can’t compete with the coupling method’s performance in that regard. Now, I primarily bend for effect. I use a lot of different positions with this method because I have many more options.

    Harmony: Sorry for the confusion. What I meant to say is: in the cross position you’re a fifth away and already in a good position for harmony. With the coupling method new notes and harmonious chords are introduced. A huge boost for for the musician. Think about this, adding even just one more usable chord in the low octave is huge. Here it is! Thanks for commenting and feel free to drop me a line.

  • Dr. Dan Says:

    Can you explain a bit about playing the dominant key of a song in cross harp as it relates to the coupling. For instance, which harp on top and bottom and how you would choose which coupling. I’m also interested in straight harp or first position playing as well.

  • bill Says:

    Dan, This is what do. I made the B flat my primary harp (on top) I liked the lower tone of the reeds. Everything I play is the lower tone on Top. Therefore the B flat is over the C harmonica. Yes it can work the other way and whose to say which is better. The whole tone formula is the catalyst. I listed the coupling arrangements for the major keys on my tech page. It would be like learning to play the guitar with the high or thinnest string on top and the thickest E string on the bottom. My son plays his guitar that way (up side down) “California Dreaming” video. He’s very good and who’s to say which is the best way. I’s all about the tone for me (lower tone on top).

  • David Says:

    Bill,

    I really appreciate the quick reply to my inquiry on the methods that you are using.

    I think that coupling the B flat and C harmonicas is absolutely amazing. I though that it would be very difficult to play but found it quite easy after soon practice.

    Keep up the good work and amazing sounds.

    Hope to stop by and see you soon.

  • Neil Ashby II Says:

    Hi Bill:

    I mentioned your site on Facebook in one of the harmonica groups whereat magnets were being suggested for coupling.

    Are you on Facebook yet? That seems to be the place for promoting your idea. Harp-L has really been surpassed by the various harmonica groups on Facebook.

    /Neil

  • Jay Says:

    Lord have mercy, where has this been all my life. I am your era, and just getting serious about returning to harmonica. Much thanks for what you have done!

    This would be great for me, except I would only use the bottom harmonic upon the occasions need it. Other times, would I still be able to lip purse and bend without obstruction on the top ? I hope you have Patented this idea because it could create an entirely new instrument. Good on you man, J

  • bill Says:

    Jay, Thanks for the comment. I’m so used to playing two at once it’s just one instrument to me. The more you do it the better you get. My advise, stop playing one at a time. At first it felt some what clumsy, but now having just one feels strange. Like the song “It’s just a Matter of Time”. Yes, you’ll be able do lip purse, I still do. Feel free to e-mail me with questions. Thanks again. Bill

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