Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Anything apart from the two mainstream default harmonicas (Solo-tuned fully-valved chromatic, and un-valved Richter 10-hole diatonic). Alternate tunings, different construction, new functionality, interesting old designs, wishful-thinking... whatever!
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Brendan
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Re: Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Post by Brendan » Thu May 25, 2017 7:18 am

I'm practicing with my mini pitchbender prototype and having fun emulating bends in various tunings.

Interactive reed bending on harmonicas depends on the relative pitches of the two reeds in a chamber. The most stable bends are at the lowest pitch possible (eg. the full tone bend on hole 2 of a diatonic is easier to control than the semitone bend above it).

With MIDI you're freed from that constraint: all notes can bend however much you want, or is decided by the setup of the controller. Mine gives easy bends for 1, 2, and 3 semitones. This range means even normally poor harmonica tunings for bending are suddenly very expressive with MIDI bending.

For example, Solo Tuning becomes very sexy on the DM48 once you can bend all the notes. And Richter bending is now greatly expanded, because notes that don't bend on acoustic harps now do. This makes Richter Tuning sound fresh and new.

To clarify: in Richter 2nd Position lower octaves you can bend the 1st/3rd/5th of the scale. Now with MIDI bending you can bend all those (and in more degrees of bend), but also extend pitch bending to the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th scale notes. This opens up a whole new vocabulary of bending licks which have long been available on other instruments, but not the harmonica.

To get ideas, I'm listening a lot to country and bluegrass Dobro players to hear how they incorporate bends in their playing, and trying to emulate them on the DM48. It's a whole new world of expression and technique that needs a lot of time devoted to perfecting it, but I find myself getting very addicted to this new approach.

One cool thing is that the bends all work perfectly regardless of how strongly you play: they even sound at whisper-quiet levels. That's not so easy with acoustic harmonica bends, which require a certain amount of force to control.

I'm now very happy with the functionality of my mini pitchbender but want to reduce the size a bit. The next step is to get the electronics onto a printed circuit board capable of serial production, as I plan to offer these for others interested.

Lizzy
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Re: Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Post by Lizzy » Thu May 25, 2017 7:37 am

Great news Brendan ! Looking forward to try new expressions !

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Re: Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Post by Lizzy » Mon Jun 12, 2017 9:54 pm

Brendan, what price range are we talking about at most?

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Brendan
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Re: Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Post by Brendan » Wed Jun 14, 2017 6:34 pm

The DM48 has incredible functionality and expression, but two things about it make it less appealing to diatonic harp players: an inability to controllably bend notes, and a 12-hole chromatic-harmonica-size mouthpiece.

For my own playing and to help make the DM48 more user-friendly for all harp players, I decided to develop two add-on accessory parts to address these issues. Diatonic players are used to small 10-hole harps, so I designed a 10-hole mouthpiece with the same shape and close hole spacing as a blues harp - complete with real metal coverplates from the iconic Hohner 1896 Marine Band. It screws into the same sockets as the stock DM48 mouthpiece, and gives a familiar diatonic-size interface to the amazing world of MIDI harmonica.

The Mini PitchBender was something I could not develop on my own; it required a partner with sophisticated electrical and MIDI knowledge. After looking on YouTube I found the perfect person: London electronics guru Tim Jacobs. We struck up an online friendship and have been working hard together over several months to try various approaches to this gnarly issue. The first was based on a small pressure ribbon (see photo), and we also tried tiny pitch wheels. But the best approach turned out to be a mini joystick which allows a player to bend notes accurately to 4 different pitches with small finger movements.

After a little practice I was able to use it to mimic the kinds of bends I do on harmonica, and discover more cool bends that are not possible on any normal harp! This pitch-bending control adds so much soul to the DM48, which for me greatly increases the playing pleasure of this amazing instrument. Based on the success of the prototype, Tim and I have ordered the parts to make a smaller version on the Mini PitchBender for sale to DM48 and other MIDI instrument players.

More info, photos and ordering here:
http://www.brendan-power.com/DM48.php

Direct link to the demo video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZZkkb_qBqo

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dblues
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Re: Controllable Note Bending on MIDI Harmonicas - What are the Options?

Post by dblues » Wed Jun 14, 2017 7:55 pm

Just watched. Very cool!!!
If you have a good alto or tenor sax patch, I'd like to hear a demo of that.
Thanks.

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