I would like to reflect today on how terrible I was for a few years at tuning harmonicas. I have come up with a short list of some of the really dumb things I have done when tuning harmonicas.
There are plenty more mistakes that I don’t have space or time for today, trust me….
Here they are, in no particular order:
#1. Tuning to A 440. The first few times I tuned harmonicas, I used a guitar tuner and just tuned the notes to the tuner. It seemed odd to me that almost all the notes were way sharp, but I trusted the needle on that tuner. After all, it always made my guitar sound great.
I could not believe how horrible the harmonica sounded once it was “in tune”. I can;t remember where I first learned that you tuned harmonicas sharp. I read it somewhere.
#2. Tuning all the notes to 0 on my tuner and expecting smooth chords. I had no idea why the chords sounded smooth on a harmonica that was “out of tune”. This drove me nuts for a couple of years. I just had no idea where to look for information, and the few people who had some idea of what was going on could not put it into words that made any sense to me.
#3. Being wimpy and indecisive while tuning. This is what happened to me after I started to learn about the difference between tuning a harmonica for smooth chords OR melody notes. I would get the chords smooth, and then play some melody notes and want to “tweak them just a little, not enough to mess up the chords”.
Then I would get individual notes sounding right, go back to playing the chords, and whoops! – a little too rough, gotta make those chords sound smoother. Back and forth, back and forth. I wanted a harmonica that had really smooth chords AND magically changed into a harmonica melody notes that were in tune when I played fiddle tunes.
This lead often to mistake #4:
#4. Tuning the harmonica while pissed off and playing harder and harder and filing and scraping reeds harder and harder, working ten times harder than I needed to end up with a harmonica that was way sharp because I was flattening the reeds from playing too hard.
Sometimes I would break reeds when I got really mad, and then I would get really REALLY mad…..
And then there is #5 – staring at the tuner like a deer hypnotized by headlights. I still do this at times and I don’t really know why – I guess I expect the tuner to suddenly change it’s mind if I just wait another second. The truth is, 95% of the time I can see immediately that the note is sharp or flat. I just don’t trust myself sometimes. At first I did not trust myself at all…..
#6 Yeah I know, I am going over the limit…. Playing a cold harp with hot breath and making the reeds all wet with water piling up on the reeds. This makes for a harmonica with the blow reeds very sharp, because that is where most of the water vapor collects.
The good news is that you can avoid all of these mistakes, at least most of the time.
I will tell you more about how to do that in future posts. Right now I’ll tell you how I deal with #4 – how I keep from getting crazy / mad / too frustrated….
I break the spell by doing neck rolls and dropping my shoulders about every 5 minutes, sometimes even more often. It is hard to go completely insane if I let go of stress and bring my attention back into my body with these simple moves. I have just made this a habit, and it really makes a difference.
Using a stopwatch and glancing at it also breaks the spell without taking me out of the flow. Tuning becomes a game with a way of keeping score.
Avoid these mistakes, and watch your accuracy and efficiency jump up a few notches…..