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TOPIC: Warming up your harmonica before playing?

Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7447

  • keith
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This mainly concerns those of us who have chromatics.

How do you go about warming up your reeds/valves before playing?
What do you use, & how long do you leave them to warm up?

I have been just holding mine between the palms of my hands for about half a minute, & I'm beginning to think this is either not long enough, or not sufficiently warm enough, as I get sticking valves on my Hohner CX12, particularly 3 draw.
Edit: One hand over the mouth piece, the other over the back spring.

Any advice/recommendations for what is best practice?

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Last Edit: by keith.

Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7449

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keith wrote: ...
How do you go about warming up your reeds/valves before playing?
What do you use, & how long do you leave them to warm up?

I have been just holding mine between the palms of my hands for about half a minute, & I'm beginning to think this is either not long enough...


Keith, I'm obviously not a harmonica authority on any level...but there is some basic physical chemistry here that doesn't require a lot of musical skill (that's me :) ).

Our goal is to prevent the moisture in our breath from condensing inside the harp. More specifically, we want to avoid (as much as possible) condensation where the reed, reed plate and windsaver make contact. That is deep inside the working guts of the harp. If you are holding the harp in the palm of your hands for half a minute, you are likely not warming much of anything other than the covers.

If we want to warm up the reed plates, we need to warm the comb. Again, this is physics, not music (I don't do music questions). The comb and reed plates (holding the reeds and windsavers) are one assembly. That's where your breath passes. There needs to be a certain amount of "heak soak" to warm the whole harp assembly. If we just warm the outer surfaces, that heat will dissipate before it gets where we need it to be.

I can't give a definitive answer about exactly how long your harp must be in contact with any given heat source. My personal method is to find a warm piece of electronic gear and place my harp front side (opposite the mouthpiece) down on it for about 15 minutes. This not only puts the comb in direct contact with a warm surface but allows warm air to rise through the harp under the harp covers and help warm the reed plates directly. My favorite warming devices are my cable box and my modem which I measure at 31C and 33C respectively...about 90F. In my estimation that seems like a reasonable tempearture...warm but not hot.

I imagine other people have their own methods and I'm open to other opinions.

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Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7450

Hello keith,

Best practice is to keep the chrom in your shirt pocket. Other players use heating pads, warm towels or inside of oven mitts in your pants pocket(to keep them lint free). A few minutes to bring the harp up to room temperature, in any case!

Be Blues...And Jazz,

Suave Blues Man

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Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7451

Try a hand warmer (used by hunters). Wrap the harmonica
in the hand warmer for 3-5 minutes.

The best performance temperature range for any valved
harmonica is 98-108 degrees Fahrenheit (37-42 degrees Celsius).

The valved harmonicas need to be on or near the human body
temperature of 98.6 Fahrenheit (38 C), for optimal performance.

When we play a valved harmonica without warming it first, our
breath of 98.6 F is transferred to a harp's room temperature
of an average 72 F. Condensation forms on the valves, slowing
or stopping their movement.

Valves are, in my opinion, absolutely needed on a slide chromatic
harmonica. Unvalved slide harps such as the Hohner Koch Chromatic,
or other brands' 10-hole slide harps, leak air, making it more difficult to
produce a full tone.

Warming the harp to our breath temperature helps to avoid condensation.
Another alternative is to cool down the breath, by drinking ice water before
playing. Some performers claim that they have a gag reflex to ice water,
and prefer to warm the harmonica.

John Broecker

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Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7452

Fourteen years ago my band and I were playing a Martin Luther King day in a local park.
There were several acts there, and one of my favorites was my old friend Johnny Love.
Nat Adderly who was a resident and our jazz laureate in town had recently passed,
and Johnny Love asked if I could do "The Work Song" to honor "Papa" Nat was affectionately
called "Papa" by many in the local music scene. I said I would play the tune during our set,
(lyrics and all) it was in the 50's out and a bit damp. Knowing this I put my 64 in my jacket pocket
to warm it before I played. I kicked off "The Work Song" played about half of the head before the
weather took over and stopped everything, absolutely no sound. I switched to diatonic, but the damage
was done, my band were all looking like they'd rather be somewhere else. We made it thru, kinda,
I no longer even try to play chromatic if the air is under 70 degrees. Lesson learned.

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Warming up your harmonica before playing? 1 year 7 months ago #7454

Hello, Reed Smith.

For outdoor playing, I use a Seydel Chromatic Standard,
12-hole slide chromatic. In an experiment, I played it in
a snow blizzard, and it worked fine, without a warm-up.
It's a solo system harp,like the valved slide chromatics,
and it's sold in the key of C only.

Valveless slide chromatics use a "discreet" comb, where
each reed has it's own chamber (like a tremolo harp).
No valves are needed, but the slider mechanism's holes
are much smaller than the traditional valved slide chromatics.

The Seydel Chromatic Standard is a valveless harp, and
produces a weaker, thinner tone per reed than the valved
chromatics. Valved harps won't work in a snow blizzard.

Best Regards

John Broecker

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