Date: Fri, 10 Nov 1995 11:08:09 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: From the gut (was C-spot)

>;>; Isn't it true that good bends come through use of the
>;>; diaphram?

>;No, it isn't. Why work that hard? The smallest muscles that can
>;do it with the least effort and the smallest muscle movement
>;(which can be deployed the most rapidly) while giving maximum
>;control is what is most desirable.

>;Consider the small movement required of the tongue in saying "K".
>;Fine control of this is ALL YOU NEED for bending, and bending
>;with good tone, too.

Since I'm one of the people who mentioned playing from the gut --
accompanied by a personal anectdote wherein Big Walter Horton,
on break at Lupo's in Providence, advised a young harp player who
asked about throat soreness, jaw tightness, etc. <;yours truly>;
that he was "doing it wrong" and that he should be "playing from
the gut" -- I'd like to respond to Winslow here.

Just as the "C"-Spot (or better, "K"-spot) idea is useful primarily
as a teaching tool, so is the idea of playing from the gut or the
diaphragm. Both pieces of advice can help at a particular point
in students' development, and at another time do nothing for them
or be frankly counterproductive. If a student can already
bend by raising the back of the tongue (at the K-spot), but would
benefit in tone, or in bending those low reeds, or in bending while
U-blocking or tongue-blocking by knowing of bending strategies that
use constrictions lower down along the airway, then it is counter-
productive to speak of K-spot. Likewise, it would be silly to tell
student who doesn't bend at all to do it from the gut -- you'd
end up with a blue-in-the-face, strained individual who might get
hurt with the needless effort, or with swallowing a broken reed.

But the "from the gut" advice may help a player who is jaw-tense
and throat-weary to recenter themselves and remember they have parts
below neck too.

>;As noted by someone yesterday, the C-spot
>;phenomenon can also be found further back in the glottal area,
>;which can help with tone and with bending lower notes (lower,
>;than, say Draw 1 on a G-harp). I use this myself, in conjunction
>;with "K"-spot bending but find it's easier to convey the initial
>;concept with the "K"-spot.

I was that someone. I have no quarrel here.

>;Whether glottal or K-spot, the fact is that moving those small
>;muscles is a lot less work than moving the much larger muscles of
>;the diaphragm. And you can do it much faster.

Smaller is not necessarily better in muscle use. When I paddle a
canoe, I'm told to "unwind at the waist", not just use the arm
muscles, and I'll certify that at day's end, the difference in
paddling styles makes a huge difference in how tired I feel. This
non-harp analogy is useful because, with paddling, the task (moving
the boat through the water with the paddle close to the boat) is
relatively fixed. With a fixed task, a large muscle will outlast
a smaller one.

Large muscles can be very fast. Witness a spontaneous cough, or the
gag reflex. They can also be very controlled, as with the diaphragm-
originated vibrato that we blues-gals and fellows love so much.

Bending is not so much a fixed task, as is obvious when one sees a
beginner sucking down on that harp so hard to effect the smallest of
pitch-lowering. It is highly dependent on the mechanics, on the geometry
of the airway. If an equally effective geometry can be gotten with an
equally trivial motion of a larger muscle, versus a smaller one, I'd
recommend it. Does this mean bending with the diaphragm? Not necessarily.

>;It also may be easier on your harps. Those "several blown C-harps . . ."
>;. . . probably could have been saved by using easier, gentler bending
>;methods. The fact is that the players most widely admired tend by
>;and large to be, in the words of Joe Filisko "cool as a
>;cucumber," even while projecting ferocity and strong emotion.

>;Now, if diaphragm bending gives you something that you can't get
>;from other methods, I'd like to know. But I'm a little alarmed at
>;the picture presented by bluegrass player Mike Stevens. He's
>;another candidate for "plays-as-fast-as-Popper" and yet he
>;insists on using his gut to bend, which is bound to slow him
>;down. And he claims to have had several hernia operations in this
>;area of his body. What's wrong with this picture?

I also admire the "cool" heat of a fine player. I believe the secret is to
play the entire muscular gamut from total relaxation to extreme rigor. The
range is attenuated if pedestrian techniques require great effort.

If being advised (by me, BWH, or anyone) to play from the gut results in
you trying to bend notes by sheer air pressure/vacuum, then of course
don't listen to us. Really, there IS no usable bend that employs _only_ the
diaphragm, bends being so dependent on airway geometry. Listening to Little
Walter and Kim Wilson yesterday, I was struck again by how their instruments
sing, how song-like their phrasing is. They persuade and cajole you with
their harps. Just like a good singer, their syllables are formed with the
mouth, but expressed by more, by the support from their diaphragm.

So if when you play you find your awareness centered on your mouth, your
jaw, your throat, your ribcage, then dive back into the music where
you belong. Relax at the knees, tip your pelvis back, and play low from
the gut.

- --John Thaden

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