Double C Dilemma


Double C Dilemma
Clint Hoover

NOTE: the following is a response to questions posed by Paul Farmer, Australian harmonica player, in regard to techniques for handling the double C notes on a chromatic harmonica.

My first years on the chromatic were spent playing exclusively out of the C/D hole. Then I attended a Cham-ber Haung seminar at the Grand Teton Music festival and learned the method you are familiar with. Later, I studied with Robert Bonfiglio for a year in NYC. Although our concerns were more about corner switching, I continued with the C/B C/D hole method. As time went on, I began to see that there seemed to be exceptions and “grey areas” concerning the methods I had learned. Perhaps it was because my focus was more jazz than classical. It seemed to me that the method I had learned placed too much emphasis on jumps/distance as a criteria for note choice, where it seemed to me that combinations of different mechanics must be considered. I want to make it clear at this point that I consider the Huang/Bonfiglio method essential to learn the orientation of both blow C notes. I consider it the best way to know which blow C hole you are using (assuming you want to use both blow Cs.)

I must also emphasize that I do not consider this to be a black or white issue. It must be viewed in context. In other words, the phrase being played and what interpretation you want can determine the choice you make on all Cs, Fs, and C#s. I have spent many years experimenting with scales and arpeggios and playing them in all ways possible noting differences in legato, speed, overall smoothness, tone, etc. and have found that this has made me far more comfortable, confident and intuitive with my axe. To me, this is the ultimate idea- to be able to play an F major scale using either blow or draw Fs and either blow or draw Cs and to have a good sense of when to use the different choices available. This of course is extremely time consuming and is not advisable for everyone. I am still working on this goal, but I’ve found it particularly useful when improvising.

With my beginning students, I teach the Huang/Bonfiglio method for basic scales. I find it to work extremely well for linear scales and most standard scale exercises. With my advanced students, we look at various passages and discuss the different ways to do them and what are the results of these different ways of handling them. Which way can be done the fastest? What parts of the line should or can be legato? How do you want to accent the line? Which way makes the line swing better? Sometimes a line will sound beautiful at a ballad tempo but not doable at a fast bop tempo. So, a ballad may be played with different choices than an up tempo piece.

For jazz, I find the draw C and Blow F to be particularly useful as half step slides up to a note are common. But again the idea to me is to be equally comfortable with all three Cs, both Fs, and both C#s. Here is a listing of what I think is important:

1. Context is everything in considering what way to play Cs, Fs, and C#s. (What is the overall phrase being played) You cannot rely on one rule to cover all circumstances.

2. Factors such as speed, accenting, legato, tone, overall smoothness, affect your choices.

3. It is a combination of different mechanics that can greatly affect the difficulty of a given phrase. These mechanics are:

a. Distance traveled (jumps.) The farther the jump the harder it is to accurately judge.
b. The number of jumps in succession. Difficulty increases with more jumps.
c. Slide usage. The more times the slide is utilized, the harder.
d. Changes in air direction.

If a phrase uses a.b.c. and d., it is probably going to be a more difficult phrase to play than one that only uses c.and d. The more mechanics involved, the harder it is to precisely coordinate them together smoothly. This is compounded when you put together a series of moves with multiple mechanics happening on each note change.

4. The Huang/Bonfiglio method is essential to learn orientation with the blow C holes and for linear scales and small interval movement. It may not always be the best way to handle some arpeggio passages and pentatonic scales. Also, I do not always like using the 4 hole blow C in the D-C-Bb passage that the method recommends. For speed in a repetitive move of D-C-Bb; D-C-Bb or D-C-Bb-C-D the 5 hole C is faster, I think. For legato, the draw C is best, but not as fast. To me, always using the 4 hole blow C is adding too many mechanics together (an extra hole move) that supersedes the extra distance traveled to the 5 hole C. If I was going Bb-C-down to G I would use the blow 4 C. If I was going Bb-C-Bb I would use the draw C. I would probably use the draw C if I was going Bb-C-A, especially if I wanted it to be legato.

5. All of this as you have pointed out, makes sight reading harder than if you simply use the C/D hole exclusively. It is easier to utilize all of this for improvising where I have found I can now intuitively make these choices as I play (usually.) With practice, I think this can be done in sight-reading too, although not easily. As you said, how can you make choices when you don’t know where the line is going? The only answer I have to that is that a very good sight-reader is “reading ahead” or looking at a whole phrase and not just reading one note at a time. My main concern as an artist is not sight reading but improvising and I want my playing to sound as musical and as fluid as possible. Also, I don’t want to be limited in how I can do different lines on the harp because you can really make these lines sound different depending on how you play them.

Well there you have it. I hope this helps. Ultimately, I don’t think there is a single method that can encompass everything and can be applied to every circumstance. It’s just too complex for that. If you decide to quote me in an article can you please run it by me first? I would appreciate that. Also, I would really be interested in what some of your other responses have been as I am always open to new ideas.

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