ChromaBender Exploration #1 — Summertime
What is the ChromaBender?
Brendan Power’s ChromaBender harmonica incorporates the recent “ultra-bend” or “x-bend” technology in a 3-octave, solo-tuned chromatic harmonica. It enables playing the deep, juicy bends characteristic of the richter-tuned diatonic harmonica –i.e. the blues harp — on a 3 octave, 12-hole Hering chromatic model. Like the richter-tuned Suzuki SUB-30 and it’s high performance custom version , blow and draw bends are available on every hole where the interval between the draw and blow notes is at least a whole step. On those holes with a half-step interval between blow and draw notes, either the blow or draw note is bendable but not both. There is no slide on the ChromaBender: you get all the “missing” sharps and flats by playing either draw or blow bends.
Click here for more information about ChromaBender.
Solo Tuning vs. Richter Tuning
I think the ChromaBender provides a terrific opportunity for blues and country-oriented diatonic players to take advantage of the unique capabilities of solo tuning. Richter tuning is great but solo tuning has much to recommend it as well:
- Identical blow/draw patterns in all octaves
- All notes playable as octaves
- Many double stops ( 4 major thirds, 4 minor thirds, 4 perfect fifths, 4 perfect 4ths, 4 major sixths, 4 minor sixths, two tritones, two major seconds, 2 minor sevenths, 12 octaves ) identical in each octave
Richter tuning is much more complicated since every octave is different and that makes duplicating patterns in different octaves difficult or impossible.
For chromatic players,ChromaBender makes it possible to play tunes with substantial key modulations and bend notes like on a blues harp.
Why I Chose Summertime
Summertime is a great tune and a familiar one. It sounds wonderful on both diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. On either a richter-tuned diatonic or a solo-tuned chromatic, you can play Summertime based on the pleasingly dark and sad Dorian mode, commonly referred to as “third position” by harp players. It also provides an ideal pportunity to demonstrate the harmo-hermaphroditic features of the ChromaBender.
Blow by Blow Description of the Performance
I’m still exploring this instrument. To do so, I’m composing etudes that allow me to get my chops together in the process of playing something that sounds more or less like real music on tunes I actually play in public. “ChromaBender Summertime” is my first and it helped me get a few things together and pointed out areas needing further refinement. By chorus:
First Chorus — Melody with Juicy Bends in the Middle Octave
This is basically a statement of the melody where I am using the x-bend draw and blow bends to embellish the melody in the middle octave. This octave is the same on both richter and solo-tuned harps. If you know how to play Summertime on either diatonic or chrom, you’ll be able to hear where the extended capabilities are, particularly on the 4 and 6 hole draw bends and the 5 and 6 hole blow bends.
Second Chorus — Low Octave Bebop
Exploring making the changes here. This requires hitting the bends with reasonably good intonation. Summertime works great as a modal tune but there’s plenty of modulations in the harmonic progression that are nice to paddle through now and again ( more like the beginning than the end of the canoe trip in “Deliverance” ).
I start out exploring big fat bends on the low-octave 3-hole draw. I then go into some bop patterns. The first is a blatant rip-off from the intro to Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop”. The second is a cliche cadence pattern. My main reason for using these two phrases is that they prove an excellent way to work on what I call “functional” bends. By functional, I mean you have to execute either a blow or draw bend to get the intended note. I’ve only heard two guys that bend notes in a way that is indistinguishable from an unbent note and I’m neither one of them. But I found the results a promising start. Practice makes better as they say
Third Chorus — Multi-Octave Runs and the Top Octave
One of the great things about solo tuning is that all the octaves are the same. This makes playing the same pattern through successively lower or higher octaves pretty easy. I play these multi-octave runs to get to the top once at pick-up to the chorus and again later in. In this second run I also incorporate tongue switching to do a multi-octave run composed entirely of wide intervals. This is another technique that is pretty easy in solo tuning and pretty difficult ( for me at least ) in richter. There are some expressive bends up there on holes 9 and 10. It will take a while to find them on 11 and 12.
Fourth Chorus — Octaves and Double Stops
Another great thing about solo tuned harps is the number of octaves and double stops available. Here I go for a variation on the swooping saxophone post-war Chicago blues chromatic sound. I’m doing sixth double-stops, wailing minor thirds, lots of octaves. This chorus is really about investigating to what extent this harp sounds like its chromatic cousin. Pretty similar.
Final Chorus — Mixed Bag
Now I’m just blowing.