Tag Archives: Harmonica

My new song

Firsts

So… the first thing you might be thinking is, “If this post is about a new song, why is it illustrated by a picture of a bunch of ukulele?” Gosh, I’m glad you asked!

It’s because it’s not only the first song I’ve completed in way too long, it’s the first one I’ve ever written on my Ohana sopranino. The sopranino is at the far left in the pic. It was the best shot I could find of the little guy. (Because I didn’t want to mess with taking another one, that’s why!)

In any event, I finished the song about 5 or so days ago, took the time to learn it (yes, they are two different processes), and got a recording of it. For you “tl;dr” folks the recording is just below, you can probably see it scrolling up by now. Under that is the strange, circuitous route I had to travel to get it out in the wild. I wrote it up for the rest of you.

(Though come to think about it, I speak in paragraphs. I can’t fathom why a tl;dr sort of person would follow me online in the first place. <shrug> )

So here’s my brand new tune, a light and hopefully humorous rant on aging. If you like it, please leave a comment and share it with your friends on the social media things. If you think it sucks, go ahead and leave a comment and then share it with your enemies on social media. It’ll serve them bastards right, eh?

The Process

I had decided that I’d do a Digital Demo Tape level recording, strictly using only program(s) I could run on my somewhat aging Samsung Tab E. I got one take several days ago, but wasn’t quite happy with the result. Turns out that the two apps I used for the actual recording had strengths and weaknesses and I needed to play to the former in order to make up for the latter. I reshot the vocal (the ukulele and harmonica tracks were saveable) so the process looked like this.

  • Record the tracks using the J4T Multi-track Recorder app
  • Export each track as a separate file (you can do it quickly and easily in one process in this app. It does more than the cassette 4-track I recorded my first release on, way back in the early 90’s. Further, that cassette unit cost me $400 back then, while a few years ago I picked up J4T for $3.99.)
  • Import them, one at a time, into the Lexis Audio Editor (a free android app similar to Audacity, which does not run on android.)
  • EQ and add any track-specific effects. I kept it pretty sparse, only adding a pale wash of reverb to the vox and harmonica, and a really spare slapback echo to the uke in order to “thicken” it a tad. I also normalized them so that I had some volume to work with whilst mixing.
  • Re-import the altered tracks to J4T
  • Mix down to one stereo track
  • Reimport into Lexis (Getting dizzy yet?)
  • Trim, add the fade-out, a light touch of compression, and normalize
  • Save it and import it into Audio MP3 Editor. Another free app which does several things including transcoding, cutting/trimming, making ringtones, etc.
  • Transcode from WAV to MP3 format and add metatags
  • Done. Raise a big cheer!

But wait! Now we come to the first of the tech bombs.

Tech Bomb 1

Now that I have a finished recording, I’m going to want to host it somewhere. Oh, look! I have an old and rarely used Soundcloud account. That’s the ticket!

Ummm… did I mention that nowadays I do the greater majority of my computing stuff on my tablet? ‘Cuz that’s going to be important real soon now.

I have both the Soundcloud app and access via web browser.

It turns out that Soundcloud, despite being all about streaming to mobile devices (for all you hip kids), does not allow you to upload a recording from your phone or tablet. Dafuq?

So fine… I pass the recording up to the cloud and fire up my one remaining “general purpose” computer. The problem here is that it’s a 10 year old Dell netbook, running Ubuntu 12.something, an OS upgrade that slowed it way down. Also it doesn’t like my browser.

Despite all that I manage to get the track uploaded to Soundcloud. From my earlier tries on my tablet I know that I can’t get the embed code except from the web version. So I copy the long paragraph of obscure HTML code and paste it into a text document on the Linux box and upload it to the cloud, something I’ve done tons of times before. Then I go to download it onto the tablet so I can embed the player here in WordPress.

Here comes the second tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 2

Despite all past history, neither Google Drive nor my tablet will open the text file, they’re all saying “I don’t recognize the file type.” OMFG! It’s a plain text file, ffs! Who’s Wheaties did I pee on to make the tech gods so angry with me?

Fine!

I’ll just open the file on my netbook and laboriously type it into a note on my tablet. (Using the stylus just so it’s an extra fussy process.)

Done!

Now I open up the WordPress app and start a new post, giving it a title, a brief bit of “lorem ipsum…” placeholder text, and copy/paste the embed code in. Then I save it as a draft post so I can view it to make sure the embed actually works.

Oh look. Here comes another tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 3

My WordPress app seems to be broken. It keeps giving me “you’re not permitted to edit nor save” errors. So let’s try it through the web interface. Broken. Instead of the WP login page, I’m getting an empty page with a popup asking for my login credentials. I don’t think so!

Luckily (?) this has happened before. Some eager young beaver at my hosting service has decided my security isn’t tight enough and set the permissions on the WP folder to clear that up. Locking me out in the process. They’re actually pretty good about fixing fuckups, whether mine or theirs, so this one was cleared up within a few hours of me sending the email.

Leaving me with one final tech bomb. (sigh)

Tech Bomb 4

Remember that vast paragraph of embed code from Soundcloud? Didn’t work. Fortuneately I remembered that WP has a shortcode for Soundcloud. It works. That’s why you can see the player up there and, hopefully, play my new song.

So here I sit, finishing up the last of this blog post. Please remember that sharing is caring! If you share my stuff around, it’s better than a dollar in my tip bucket. And it only costs you a few minutes time.

Thanks much for your patience. Hopefully my next song (or video or whatever) won’t be so long coming

Schmutz In My Harp

Regular readers of this site (both of you) might recall how I had been working on bringing harmonica on the rack back into my act. In pursuit of that, I bought a sparkly fresh set of reed plates for my Lee Oskar C harp, which had gotten so old that it was all blown out of tune and, after some moderate kerfluffle, got them installed.

Only to discover that one of the reeds didn’t work well at all.

(Full disclosure: the pic is of a Hohner Blues Harp. I chose it because, unlike with the Oskar, you can see the reed plates when it’s assembled. They’re the brass bits in the picture.)

Now, taking apart and re-assembling a harmonica is a bit of a chore. The top and bottom covers are held on by wee little bolts and, in the case of the Oskar, weirdly shaped and equally tiny nuts. The bolts are sized so that when everything is tightened up, only a smidgen of the bolt comes out the other side of the nut. This is a good thing for a variety of reasons, but it makes it damned difficult to put the bolts back in. So, when I discovered that one of the reeds was only going to make odd little sounds I set the whole thing aside for later, sniffling a little bit about the $25 (+ shipping!) that I thought I’d just wasted.

Oh yeah. And the ~$6 I spent getting a stubby little #1 Phillips head screwdriver.

Then life continued happening and I didn’t get around to popping the thing open until yesterday. I thought maybe I could give recalcitrant reed a little prod and free it up. I got the bolts out and carefully placed where I wouldn’t lose them and pulled the top off.

What’s this? A little piece of brownish schmutz, maybe a bit less than twice the size of a kitchen match head. Tilting the thing made the schmutz drop off and a bit of testing (prior to messing about with the bolts again!) revealed that the reed was free to vibrate in its proper fashion.

But here’s the weird bit. When the harp is assembled properly there are no openings large enough to let mister schmutz get in. I mean, it was soft enough that if you poked it with a hairpin or something like that, you could force it in. But I certainly didn’t do that.

So I’d managed to inadvertently introduce ol’ schmutzy to the interior of the harp when I was originally re-assembling it. Without knowing I’d done so. In fact, I can’t for the life of me figure out just what the schmutz is made of, so I can’t even hazard a guess on how I managed to pick it up and secretly slip it into the works.

Oh well. I guess it’ll have to remain one of life’s little mysteries. Meanwhile I’ve got loads of practicing to catch up on.

Rinse, Repeat

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As I posted here, I’ve been working on bringing back my harmonica on the rack skills, so as to be able to play ukulele and harmonica at the same time. My practice has been sporadic (at best) and I was feeling like I wasn’t making any progress.

So yesterday I decided to lean on it pretty heavily and, after a half hour or so of much the same, it occurred to me that the fault may lie with the harp rather than with me. I slowed way down and, sure enough, there were several notes coming out quite fuzzy. Aha!

I used an old trick, to wit, rinsing the harmonica with very hot water and then tapping/patting it dry. It made a huge difference! I can’t remember how old the harp is, much less when the last time it was rinsed. If ever.

There are harmonica players who will tell you never rinse ’em, but I can’t afford to spend another $30 to $35 to replace a harp when such a simple fix works. (I bet them other folk buy a new car when the floor mats get dirty.)

I’m still “not ready for prime time.” But maybe it’ll be ready for a test run some time this week. Meanwhile I’ve got to finish breakfast (I’m at the Market Diner) and get out to the bridge spot for a solo busking set.

New Solos Coming

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Way back in the day my busking consisted of playing a lot of gut-bucket blues on guitar, harmonica (on the rack), and vocals. As time marched on I found out that I could tootle some jazz on the little mouth harp. I got snooty. No more 3 chord blues for me! Harrumph!

Then in rapid succession I got my teeth fixed — wreaking havoc on my embouchure, and grew the somewhat fussy little mustache — making me want to stop rubbing my hands around on my upper lip. Messes up the wax job, doncha know.

The upshot is I haven’t been playing harmonica at all for quite some time now. And it’s the instrument I’ve played the longest. I got my first one for my 5th birthday so that’s 50+ years.

Well… I may have grown up some or something like that. The Hobbit & Hare duo act can really use a wee bit more variety. For instance, merely adding harmonica solos to three tunes that currently don’t have any solo part will not only add more “texture” to the act, it will also be the equivalent (timewise) of adding a whole new song to the repertoire. That will eventually turn into an easier time covering longer gigs, and just be more interesting from the audience point of view.

The slight hassle of all this will be carrying and using a neck rack for busking and other strictly acoustic shows or, for the shows with sound systems, carrying around a HarpArm. I currently have a loaner rack (mine seems to have gone missing) and the HarpArms aren’t dreadfully expensive.

I’ve done a couple test runs with ukulele and harmonica and apparently I’ve not completely lost the knack. There is certainly more practice time to put in before it’s ready for prime time but I think it’s probably worth the effort. Wish me luck!