How to Raise the Pitch of an Overbend on the Harmonica

By Winslow Yerxa

The note you hear when you play an overbend on the harmonica seems to pop out of nowhere, with no slide up from another note. But when you start an overbent note, you can slide it up in pitch just as you can slide bent-down notes down in pitch.

Playing overbends in tune

When a reed opens, it plays a note that’s a little flat, so it sounds out of tune unless you bend it up slightly. By carefully moving your K-spot forward slightly, you can raise the pitch of the note until it’s in tune.

Listen to an Overblow 4 and Overdraw 8 played on the harmonica while a reference note sounds. First, the overbend is played at its lowest pitch; it sounds out of tune because it’s a little below pitch. Then the pitch of the overbent note is raised slightly so that it’s in tune with the reference note.

When you work on your overblows and overdraws, spend some time working with a reference note from a piano, synthesizer, guitar that’s in tune, or other pitch reference. You always sound better when your playing is in tune, regardless of what techniques you’re using.

Bending overbends up

You can slide an overbend up in pitch to another note. The technique is the same as raising an overbend to play it in tune; you’re just pushing it a little farther. Some overblows can be pushed up several semitones before the note breaks up. You can help sustain the overblow if you carefully increase the volume of exhaled air as you move your K-spot forward to raise the pitch.

Listen to a tune called “Gussy Fit” that uses overblows in Holes 4, 5, and 6. If you listen closely, you can hear Overblow 5 moving smoothly up one semitone to Blow 6. The overblow is bent up enough to make a smooth transition. You can also Overblow 6 played, quickly bent up two semitones and brought back down.

[Credit: Winslow Yerxa]

Credit: Winslow Yerxa