Musical imagery is the mental picture you get of the music that helps you
see where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. There
are a variety of mental images that can be used to think about music, and
specifically music on the harp. The harp is one of the instruments
where you cannot see what you are doing; you can't (and shouldn't) look
to see where you are by looking at your finger or hand position on the
instrument. The position and shape of your mouth and tongue, so crucial
to good control over bends, overblows, and even vibrato, is something you
visualize for yourself--it's generally very difficult to describe just
what is going on inside the mouth and throat in other than general terms.
The harp is also an instrument where you can't look to see what note you're
playing. You have to have a mental map in your head to keep track
of where you are and what surrounds you, wherever you are. Keyboard
players build a mental map based on the layout of the white and black notes
on the keyboard, and tend to think about music according to this mental
map. This works great on a keyboard since you can look and see where
you are whenever you want. On the harp, you have to keep track as
you play, whether by ear, listening to the sound of the note and its relationship
to its neighbors, or by keeping track of your position on the harp on a
mental map you've internalized.
I think it is good to be able to draw on as many different mental images
and musical visualizations as possible, selecting among them depending
on the demands of the music you're playing. For example, jazz may
demand a thorough understanding of advanced music theory concepts and a
need to quickly translate the musical understanding to the harp, requiring
one kind of mental map of the harp. Blues may want more expression
of sound in a tighter form, where the theoretical concepts are ingrained
at a fundamental level and don't require any analytical thought.
This sound focus can make use of a different kind of mental map than the
theoretical map used with a jazz focus. But seeing with both of those
inner eyes can help both jazz and blues players, as in this example.
Each player can draw on an understanding of both sound and musical relationships
to better express him/herself musically.
The aural image is the mental picture you have of the music itself--the
sounds. What does that mean? It's hard to explain, but maybe
easier to see in an example.
Suppose you record yourself (which I highly recommend) and when you
listen to what you've played you notice a mistake on a certain note in
a certain place. You can "see" where the mistake is in your mind,
knowing just what you did wrong and how you should have played it right
and where it is. But suppose you go to leave yourself a note to remind
you later what you need to do differently. What do you write down?
Where is the mistake? Well maybe if you know musical notation or
have the song tabbed out you can figure out just which bar has the mistake
on exactly which note and make a symbolic notation. Then maybe you
could jot down the problem, and the next time you read through the written
music you could identify where the problem lurks. Or maybe the song
has lyrics and the mistake is on a certain word in a verse you could identify.
But in general it would be difficult to identify
in words right
where the mistake is, even though you have a clear picture of it and where
it is in your mind.
It's like the difference between thinking about chairs in general, conceptually,
and picturing a particular chair (like the one you're sitting in) in your
mind. The particular chair in your mind is like the aural image of
the music. The conceptual generalization of a chair in your understanding
is like an understanding of a musical relationship.
It is this "seeing" of the music, and not the symbolizing of the music,
that is the aural image. One of the ways in which music is memorized
is by building a solid aural image of the piece. You don't memorize
(necessarily) the physical actions that produce the music, or the tab or
the notation that tells you how to play the music. You memorize the
music by building its aural image and following it when you play.
It's kind of like walking a particular path through your house--you can
retrace your steps without having a physical path to follow.
Another mental image you can build is of the musical relationships of the
notes and where they lurk in the harp. For example, you can have
a picture of the notes that tells you the 2 draw is the same as the 3 blow--and
also that those are the same scale tone (e.g. C or G) as the 6 blow and
9 blow. Further, if you're playing in 2nd position you can also build
a mental picture so that you see that those are all tonic notes (the first
note "do" of "do re me fa sol la ti do") of the 2nd position scale, and
also root notes of the tonic I chord.
You can have a picture where you "see" that the 1, 4, 7, and 10 blow scale
tones are the sub-dominant notes of the 2nd position scale (4th scale degree
"fa" from "do re me..."), roots of the sub-dominant IV
chord, or tonic notes of the 1st position scale, and that 1, 5, and 8 draw
are the dominant notes of the 2nd position scale (5th scale degree "sol"),
roots of the dominant V chord. This
picture shows the root notes of the I, IV, and
V chords highlighted in different colors as an example of seeing
musical relationships in the context of a diatonic harp. The diagram
itself becomes a visualization tool that helps you build musical maps of
the harp in your mind, to draw from when you play.
You don't have to know the note names or their function
in music theory to know that they are the
same note, or that they have a particular sound in what you are playing.
The idea is that you know where those sounds are on the harp, and what
you have to do to get them and make them sound good. Practice playing
different notes and note combinations on all possible places on the harp.
There are two dimensions of musical relationsips on the harp:
Across the harp (i.e. different holes) and
Within each hole.
Written symbols range from full standard notation to tab to lead sheets
to fake-it-style melody and chord lines. If you're going to write
down something about music you have to use some sort of symbolic system.
Reading music is often seen as something arcane and difficult, and real-time
sight reading of complex standard notation is certainly a skill learned
over a long time. But, the basic concepts can be learned by just
about anyone in a few hours. Once you've got the basics down, it
becomes a matter of practice. At first you'll be able to stumble
through the music only slowly--but you will be able to learn the song.
As you get more practiced, it becomes more second nature--you don't have
to think about each detail, but you see the musical notation in an analogous
way to reading text.. not by the letter but by the word, or phrase.
The harp layout diagrams like the example above are
another form of written symbol that you can draw from when building a musical
map in your mind. You can see musical phrases and licks
as a progression of places (cells) in the diagram, and each place in the
diagram corresponds to a physical action or technique you need to use to
play the note. These visualization diagrams can help pull together
your different mental music maps, showing you both where the notes are
and how to play them. Having a firm mental image to visualize while
you play can really help your playing.
Some people keep in mind a mental image of the written down musical
symbols. They see the sheet music in their mind and it reminds them
what music to play. I would think this would be most useful for a
limited number of problematic passages or tricky licks, and not for a whole
song--but, you never know. Different people have different visualization
strengths, and you have to pick what works best for you.
This is essentially a muscle memory response to the mechanical demands
of the instrument. It can be a guitar player's image of his hand
and finger position for a particular chord, or a piano player's image of
a handful of keys, or a harp player's image of how to play a particular
In a very real sense, the harp is a set of 10 different
"horns" set very close together, each of which can play its own characteristic
notes using its own characteristic techniques. You need
to learn to play each horn by itself, and in a variety of pitches because
low notes play differently than high ones.
Because of the different characteristics of the different holes, you can
actually tell where you are by seeing how a hole responds to a certain
technique. In other words, one way to tell where you are on the harp
is by the playing characteristics of the hole--seeing what bends or overbends
Hole 1: 1 draw bend, sometimes tough to get clean
on low harps without sliding down; often requires relatively large
mouth adjustment. Tempermental overblow, often difficult to sustain on
pitch, often needs pronounced diaphragm involvement.
Hole 2: 2 draw bends. Intermediate "fretless" bend
is tough to get on pitch with good tone. Each bend has its special requirements
for applying vibrato. Draw pitch is enharmonic with the hole 3 blow.
Overblow is enharmonic with the 3 draw full bend (3 half steps). Draw has
deep vibrato capability.
Hole 3: 3 draw bends. The 2 intermediate "fretless"
bends are tricky to hit on pitch with good tone. The blow pitch is
enharmonic with with hole 2 draw. The overblow pitch is enharmonic
with the hole 4 blow (and thus seldom used). The 1/2 step bend is
great for applying vibrato, but vibrato on deeper bends gets more tricky.
Wide range of pitch oscillation is possible on vibratos.
Hole 4: 1 draw bend. The overblow is moderately
Hole 5: No bend note (draw bend less than a semitone).
Overblow can be cranky.
Hole 6: 1 draw bend. Most stable overblow.
Hole 7: No bend note (blow bend less than a semitone).
Overdraw can be cranky.
Hole 8: 1 blow bend. Stable overdraw is enharmonic
with the hole 9 draw, and thus seldom used.
Hole 9: 1 blow bend. Overdraw can be fairly
Hole 10: 2 blow bends. Half step bend is very
tricky. Overdraw has exacting tolerances.