Harmonica under water(?) :)

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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Harmonica under water(?) :)

Post by EdvinW » Wed Jun 26, 2019 11:03 am

A friend and colleague asked this morning during breakfast: Does a harmonica work under water, and if not what does it take for it do so?

The question came from a Facebook group, where nobody apparently had an answer. What complicates the question considerably is that water has very different acoustic properties than we're used to, most notably it doesn't compress the way air does. Some musical instruments like percussions or the violin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gb5uetWE3w) work well, while wind instruments generally don't. My gut told me that free reed instruments could work too, but this wasn't at all obvious.

Naturally, I did what anyone would do, and filled the largest bowl I could find in the lunch room with water to try it out! :D

My finds were not conclusive. If you have air in your lungs, making bubbles through the harmonica will produce notes which can be heard by those around. This was the easy part and the results were expected. Much more interesting, I think, is the question of playing a harp without blowing air into it. Filling my mouth and the harp with water, and submerging my head enough to listen under water, most of the time I heard nothing. Sometimes it worked though, or at least I thought I heard a tone. There might have been another source of the sound I heard, but I think it was actually the harmonica.

I have two hypotheses:
1. Maybe you need to get the sound going first, similarly to when you hit an overblow or when sounding a reed that easily chokes.
2. If there are some tiny bubbles of air inside the chamber, these might act as cushions which makes the water in the chamber compressible enough to allow the instrument to work like normal.

Has anyone else tried this before, or have any intuition as to why or how it should or should not work?

Of course it's a silly question without much immediate connection to normal playing, but except for being sort of fun I think it might be a good way to exercise ones understanding of the physics at work when we play.
Edvin Wedin

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Re: Harmonica under water(?) :)

Post by ROBERT TEMPLE » Fri Jun 28, 2019 9:57 am

Try it in a pool or your bathtub, might be easier to access the experiment. I would think that the resistance of the water would be too much for the reed to vibrate. It's hard to throw things under water, so...that comes to mind right away.

It would be interesting to know how a reed behaves in zero gravity, too. I found this interesting piece.

https://www.tested.com/science/space/55 ... nts-space/

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Re: Harmonica under water(?) :)

Post by jonvoth » Thu Jul 18, 2019 4:10 am

Short answer: no, never in a million years.

Maybe in a few million years if everything melts, humans evolve to breathe water, etc. Frequencies of notes would be super low. Even whales communicate under water but still use air I think.

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