Hi Folks,

There are a few pubs in and around the area where I live where they organize an Irish Music night, usually on a weekly basis. I have been to a few of these Irish nights, and I Loved it: playing music together in a nice and relaxed environment and atmosphere is just a Great experience. However, having said that, I went there a few times with my tremolo-chromatic harmonica, learnt to play a few reels, and thought I'd blend in with the crowd and play along.

But what I noticed is that the harmonica is very much "the Underdog" in Irish music: I could simply Not hear myself play between the whistles, mandolines, accordeons, drums, and banjos, just because my poor little harmonica could Not produce enough volume in the mix with the rest...

Talking of Harmonicas here, I also (try to...) play a 48-chord harmonica, I think this is a Much better instrument to bring along to an Irish night. Especially the one that I have got (the Suzuki BCH-48) is quite Loud enough to be heard, but then again, it's a chord instrument, and blends in too much with the guitars and mandolines I think...

What are Your experiences: have you come across the same problem, and how did / do You find Your way into Irish music on the harmonica??

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So I got a monthly session here in the town of Wageningen. And I have had similar experience. There were some amazing musicians there and it was awe inspiring really. The funny thing was, they didn't play Irish traditional music but instead Dutch traditional music which is, to my disbelief, extremely similar to the Irish traditional music; also including jigs waltzes and horlepieps (hornpipes). 

Anyway, before I go off-topic too much again... :P

I also came across the problem of volume. I was lucky to have a nice group that actually gives me the stage when it is my turn to play a song (we go around the table). As a result I have the tendency to play slower songs so they can hear my lead more easily (like planxty irwin or foggy dew). Anyway, I don't think this is really a solution because it also limits us in what we play and not every group will like to give the harmonica player the "solo". 

So the obvious answer would be electric amplification, but that isn't allowed in our session. And from what I've heard it isn't allowed in many sessions. So what I did is using non-electrical amplification. I used a 9CM mug for some time. This worked to a certain extent. It gives you a richer sound but for some reason it seems to work much better on the lower notes than on the higher notes. I attached an MP3 where you can hear the sound difference. You also notice that it doesn't do much with the 6 bend while it does with the later notes. To hear it in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIBKjWiD9vs (not me).

Anyway, I think the principle of channelling your sound should work, just a mug wasn't it, something similar however I could see working. 

Attachments:

I agree with You here Boyen, in that Amplification is out of order on Irish nights: it's supposed to be an Acoustic event, and most players don't like it when You bring in an Amp, no matter how small in size. And yes, there are not that many gatherings where a time and place is given to the harmonica: the main idea is that Everyone plays together, all the time.

I have to say this works really well and gives a Great mixture of music, but the harmonica is Definitely the Underdog here... If You play diatonic, there is a solution, but it's temporary and You have to be quick:  Get Yourself a (set of?) Hohner XB-40's while they are still out there, Hohner stopped manufacturing these... This is the Loudest diatonic Harmonica in the World by a clear mile.

or, if You're a bit like me, and don't like diatonics because they have too many restrictions to even mention here in my opinion, in my case I could go again with my chord-harmonica, and team up with a mandolin player maybe, to get the chords right, and join in. But the problem is that Not many peops have a chord-harmonica.... Maybe we can divide Irish harmonica players in two categories here: The Loud Diatonic players on XB-40's, and chord-harmonica players..... I can already guess which group will be the biggest, Hahaha!!!!

Hi Hilvert, It is a pleasure to know you. I have encountered the same problem whenever I played with any musical groups. Guitars, being of lower frequencies than harmonica will be heard further than the harmonica. Lower frequency sounds travel further than high frequency sounds. The only solution I found is far from perfect. It is to amplify the harmonica. I agree that the other musicians might not like it at first but, believe me they get used to it once you have explained  the problem. A hint is to let them regulate the amplifier. This will stop the complain and you might find that they will increase the amplifier louder than you would have yourself because hearing the harmonica will almost be a novelty to them. Now, the drawback to this is that the harmonica doesn't sound as good if the amplifier is too  loud. The sound tends to be distorted in the higher spectrum. Even with an amplifier that's designed for harmonica like the one made by Hohner, although it  fares better to high frequencies than a standard amplifier, it still doesn't sound as good as when the harmonica is played acoustic.To achieve loudness you must sacrifice on sound quality. Only minute adjustments and experience with the amplifier can solve this problem. Trials and errors.If you want to see some of my experiences on this topic, go to Youtube, Prospectroadjam. If you check jam 202, jam 157, and jam 4,  you will see yours truly playing  he "Tremolo Quartet"  made by Hohner a long time ago with a boatload of guitars, fiddles, and accordion. I was the only harmonica player there. Tell me what you think of it. Although the result is far from perfect, it is tolerable.. Voila, I said my piece. Best of luck to you and best of the night to you.

Hi Normand, 

thanks for your comment!!

I have to agree with you here, in that amplifying is as good as the only solution, and yes, I'm sure the other players will see sense when you push that a bit.

there is also another way, although it involves isolating yourself a litle bit from the rest... hold up a bowl in front of your harmonica, so that the sound reflects to yourself... it does make quite a difference! and if, instead of a bowl, you are able to make some sort of transparent shield, you are still part of the group.  This could cause More of a stir with the other players, and if necessary, could come in quite handy in convincing others to try out playing with an amp... Haha!!!

To be honest with you, Traditional music and Irish nights have not been on my mind so much lately, shame on me!! But I think I will start going to Irish nights again, and see what I can do with my chord harmonica... should be a very interesting thing to try out, and would definitely bring something New to the scene...

Hilvert


Normand Chouinard said:

Hi Hilvert, It is a pleasure to know you. I have encountered the same problem whenever I played with any musical groups. Guitars, being of lower frequencies than harmonica will be heard further than the harmonica. Lower frequency sounds travel further than high frequency sounds. The only solution I found is far from perfect. It is to amplify the harmonica. I agree that the other musicians might not like it at first but, believe me they get used to it once you have explained  the problem. A hint is to let them regulate the amplifier. This will stop the complain and you might find that they will increase the amplifier louder than you would have yourself because hearing the harmonica will almost be a novelty to them. Now, the drawback to this is that the harmonica doesn't sound as good if the amplifier is too  loud. The sound tends to be distorted in the higher spectrum. Even with an amplifier that's designed for harmonica like the one made by Hohner, although it  fares better to high frequencies than a standard amplifier, it still doesn't sound as good as when the harmonica is played acoustic.To achieve loudness you must sacrifice on sound quality. Only minute adjustments and experience with the amplifier can solve this problem. Trials and errors.If you want to see some of my experiences on this topic, go to Youtube, Prospectroadjam. If you check jam 202, jam 157, and jam 4,  you will see yours truly playing  he "Tremolo Quartet"  made by Hohner a long time ago with a boatload of guitars, fiddles, and accordion. I was the only harmonica player there. Tell me what you think of it. Although the result is far from perfect, it is tolerable.. Voila, I said my piece. Best of luck to you and best of the night to you.

I checked your prospectroadjam (202 157 and some randoms ones) very nice!  It looks like a very nice group you have there. 

So it seems like some sort of amplification is the only way huh.. In my opinion, this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcUssPo-meU&list=TLCNRJ4wM79ws has the right idea when it comes to amps that aren't amps. His presentation isn't the best.. and I think the idea still needs a lot of work, but I'm so sure that a larger resonator chamber could be the fix that harmonica players need.  

@Hilvert, I'm unsure if the bowl actually amplifies and not just reflect the sound towards you so that you hear it loudly, I tried testing it but my mic didn't seem to pick up any amplification. Maybe I'm using the wrong type of bowl.. 

Thanks Boyen, Thinking about this amplification problem very well described by Hilvert where the sound of the harmonica gets swallowed by the other instruments  when the harmonica is in the lead and causing the harmonica player not to be able to hear his instrument, it occurred to me that we faced the same problems when playing with a boatload of fiddlers.When we can't  hear what we play, this is an inconvenience. With the fiddlers, we use a smaller amplifier coupled to a microphone sitting near the microphone that's connected to the preamp system. This amplifier is turned towards you and is turned up loud enough so you can hear yourself play. Of course this system works  only when it's set up right.

Boyen said:

I checked your prospectroadjam (202 157 and some randoms ones) very nice!  It looks like a very nice group you have there. 

So it seems like some sort of amplification is the only way huh.. In my opinion, this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcUssPo-meU&list=TLCNRJ4wM79ws has the right idea when it comes to amps that aren't amps. His presentation isn't the best.. and I think the idea still needs a lot of work, but I'm so sure that a larger resonator chamber could be the fix that harmonica players need.  

@Hilvert, I'm unsure if the bowl actually amplifies and not just reflect the sound towards you so that you hear it loudly, I tried testing it but my mic didn't seem to pick up any amplification. Maybe I'm using the wrong type of bowl.. 

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