The Melodica as an Analog Synth

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  • #6143
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi,

    Below is a link to another study I call “The Melodica as an Analog Synth.” As I was creating this recording, it reminded me of the modulations that I can get from my Moog Voyager monophonic analog synth. The melodica was becoming a synth in my hand, only I was using air and motion and humming as a modulation source instead of control voltages.

    No fancy recording here. I just put my $70 pocket recorder in front of the speaker. However, to really hear what is going on, I would recommend headphones or a high quality playback system.

    Note the melodicas were in tune. The signal chain was recording microphone to compressor to a delay to a JBL powered speaker. I recorded from the speaker with the pocket recorder. Sometimes the delay was off. No EQ. No other effects of any kind.

    Listen for: bent notes (without blowing hard), low sympathetic note that sounds without pressing the key; harmonics; distortion from the instrument, not the recording equipment; humming in the background, and other things. Bent notes start the recording. Next you can hear a sympathetic low note (maybe is it a harmonic) being produced without playing the note. Next is everything else.

    Lowboy

    #7007
    AvatarAndre
    Participant

    Hi Lowboy
    It has been a while since the last time I visited the forum. I’m just hearing this, hooow, great effects!
    I have trying to produce some music on the computer, and have been learning a bit about synths. And using some vst plugins (not the same has the real analogue). Lol. A new world for me. Didn’t know anything about synths a few months ago. Didn’t know what was a moog either. Lol. And now I’m hearing this and I think it is pretty creative.
    You are always looking for for new techniques, sounds and possibilities for the melodica! Great work Lowboy!
    Also this past months I haven’t been playing the melodica. I have been exploring computer producing, so I have been playing finger drums with pads, exploring synths, playing bass on the midi controller, sampling etc. Also exploring more with musical production eq, delays, reverbs, etc. And now I’m back to the melodica and I found that this past months learnings and experiences were very helpful when it comes to playing the melodica!
    I simply enjoy hearing this! Great!

    #7097
    AvatarGayle H
    Participant

    How do you bend the notes?

    Wow, this is great, giving me ideas about how to incorporate harmony notes and chords. I just posted in another thread about how chords seem intrusive when I add them to the melody and don’t seem to blend in smoothly. You are giving me great techniques to model. Thanks!

    #7100
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Gayle,

    I appreciate your appreciation of my endeavors to explore the expressive capabilities of the melodica.

    Here are some ways to bend notes. Some of these are specific to out-of-production Hohner Piano 26/27/32 melodicas. In other words, some of these techniques will simply not work on other brands of melodica due to differences in design.

    In my experience, bending notes on Piano 26/27/32s Hohners is much easier than any other brand of melodicas. In addition, just like harmonicas, certain notes bend more and are easier to bend than other notes. Generally speaking, lower notes are easier to bend than higher notes. It is almost impossible to bend very high notes, though a few of us that visit this site have managed to develop techniques to do so.

    Ways to bend a note on a melodica:

    1. Blow hard. Easiest and fasted way to bend a note. Easiest and fastest way to ruin your melodica. WARNING: blow too hard and you will damage your reeds. Once damaged, a reed will bend too easy, making your melodica sound out of tune at playing volumes. You will have to ruin several melodicas or replace several reed plates before you figure out how hard is hard enough.

    2. Damage a couple of reeds. Once damaged, you have nothing to lose. You now have a melodica that can achieve pretty deep bends on those notes with damaged reeds. However, you must play those notes pretty softly when you are not bending them or they will sound far out of tune. So a melodica “prepared” this way will have to be used in specific keys to achieve the bends on the right notes.

    3. Depress a key only slightly while blowing. This will work but requires such precision that it does not seem practical to me during performance.

    4. When trying to bend a note using blowing pressure, wave the melodica around to accentuate the bending with the Doppler effect and centrifugal force. From http://www.physicsclassroom.com: “The Doppler effect can be described as the effect produced by a moving source of waves in which there is an apparent upward shift in frequency for observers towards whom the source is approaching and an apparent downward shift in frequency for observers from whom the source is receding.”

    A Leslie speaker cabinet with its horn rotating on slow speed provides a pretty significant Doppler effect, which is its goal. I can move my melodicas much faster through the air than a Leslie rotor on slow speed. The audience and a stationary microphone pick up this effect more than the player does I do believe.

    Centrifugal force? I believe it contributes, but I have no evidence. Yet my instincts and what I hear keep me believing that it helps accentuate bends on the lowest notes with the largest, heaviest reeds. Putting blowing pressure, Doppler effect and centrifugal force together is not easy. I have not perfected it yet, but I have had momentary success with huge bends.

    5. Using Piano 26/27/32s with the sound holes on the back, press the back of the melodica into your chest to seal off most of the air flow. Blow into the melodica while holding down a note. The flow path upstream and downstream from the reed is pressurized, with the reed sounding in some funky way from the little bit of air that is getting through. When you release the melodica from your chest, the release of pressure and rush of air through the reed will make it bend.

    All kinds of funky sounds are emitted from these melodicas when you pressurize them and unpressurized them using the above technique. Variables are shirt material, level of sealing, area of sealing, how fast and how far you release the melodica from your chest, and much more. Using this technique, I can bend high notes and low notes without using excessive pressure, and I can get reeds to sound in sympathy with other reeds.

    6. Buy a pitch bender pedal.

    I think there are some other techniques that are not coming to mind right now. But that should get you started.

    Regards,

    Lowboy Bootay

    #7101
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    With regard to #3, Lowboy, isn’t it better to think of this in terms of partially releasing (rather than partially depressing) the key?

    It seems to me that narrowing the stream of air with one’s lips also contributes to bending. However, I don’t claim to have good bending skills!

    #7103
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Alan,

    I don’t execute No. 3 very much other than the few times I have tested it. Bending occurs at a certain spot when the key is slightly depressed. I am not sure it matters whether you get to that spot by coming out of a note (releasing the key to the point of bend) or starting a note (depressing a key to the point of bending). I only think of it as trying to find that perfect position where the note bends. On my melodicas, it is very difficult to find that spot and hold it particularly when my hand is in the normal playing position.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7105
    AvatarQuetscher
    Participant

    Hi Alan,

    I guess with narrowing your lips you increase the air pressure, maybe that’s why this technique eases bendings…

    Concerning your thoughts about depressing or releasing the key: musically it seems to me the simple difference between bending a note upwards (which you do by slightly depressing the key) or bending downwards (by slightly releasing).

    Greetings, Quetscher

    #7106
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi,

    Let me clarify one statement in my bending post. In bending technique number 5, the bending occurs while the melodica is pressurized, not when the pressure is released. There is some mysterious combination of pressure modulation (sealing the back of the melodica against your chest in various ways), keyboard attack, and breath pressure/control that enables the bending of most notes, including high notes. I am still working on sorting it out so I can bend notes reliably in the upper register.

    Muffling and releasing the melodica (holding the Piano 26/27/32 against your chest and then lift it away from your chest) provides substantial volume and timbre modulation, and, if you are going with an amplified sound, the increase in volume can (if you are crowding the mic) overdrive your mic and amp and you get your amp to bark, honk, and distort.

    The melodica is a challenging instrument to explore. Many times I have achieved really great sounds, but trying to recreate the sounds reliably is the challenge. There can be scores of variables that all come together for a moment to create a unique sound or effect, and it is hard to be conscious of them all at any given time.

    I will mention again if you want to dig deeper into learning about reeds, reed setup, reed interaction, bending, influence of mouth cavity and a thousand other details about free reed instruments, spend an afternoon on several harmonica websites. These harmonica players have 100 years of accumulated knowledge. While some of the harmonica information is not directly related to melodicas, much of the information can be adapted or at least provide ideas for exploration.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7107
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hey Guys,

    Duh. I am just getting this now. How could I have missed this in two years of exploration. You are absolutely right. If you are playing a low note and slowing release the key, the note bends pretty good. I have always thought everyone was trying to depress a key just a little bit to get it to bend.

    The technique you two are describing is much easier to execute than my approach. I think this makes the technique viable during playing as it is much easier to release the key slowly.

    I will have to explore this more. It will be interesting to see this on AP Tuner.

    Thanks for helping me see the light.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7108
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Such bending as I do consists mostly in bending as I stretch out a note, though I think once you have the feel of it there’s some bending that occurs more generally that’s not so much from a conscious effort. I think this is characteristic of Quetscher’s playing.

    #7109
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Quetscher,

    I think it’s a matter of increasing the air pressure without increasing the amount of air. I got this idea in watching a clarinet lesson video.

    #7111
    AvatarQuetscher
    Participant

    “I think it’s a matter of increasing the air pressure without increasing the amount of air.”

    That sounds logical to me. Thanks for the explanation.

    #7112
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Something I’ve noticed, especially on Suzuki Melodions, is that there is a barrier inside that partially blocks the flow of air coming into the instrument, so that the flow is narrowed. Experimentation with the size of that barrier might produce interesting results, and I guess it might be possible to have a slide mechanism (with spring?) that allows the player to narrow or widen the air flow while playing.

    #7114
    AvatarQuetscher
    Participant

    That’s a great idea, Alan. But wouldn’t that mean that you need the left hand to handle this mechanism? Maybe it would be easier to have a mouthpiece with a soft tip that you could widen or narrow with your lips…

    #7115
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Where’s that extra hand when you need it?

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