Go to content

Main menu:

Annotated bibliography
Alfred Förtsch

This is an annotated bibliography of selected sources on the physics of the blues harp. It is a dynamic document, new entries will be added every now and then. My selection will surely be somewhat subjective, and it will probably never be complete. There will be only few explicit links - if you are looking for download possibilities of scientific papers, Google Scholar (just google for "Google Scholar") could proof useful.

Table of contents
1. The instrument
2. Woodwind instruments and Musical acoustics
3. Blues harp physics
4. Looking into the player’s mouth
5. Speech synthesis

1. The instrument

A wealth of information about the harmonica can be found on Pat Missin's website, in particular a list of links to scientific papers.

Descriptions of the instrument and of all playable notes (normal notes, draw and blow bends, overblows and overdraws) can be found in various instruction books. A classic source is Steve Baker’s Harp Handbook:

Steve Baker, The Harp Handbook: Revised & Expanded 3rd Edition 1999 (ISBN-10: 0711949190)
Steve Baker, The Harp Handbook (2006, in German. ISBN-10: 386543052X)

A more physically motivated description can be found in:

Bahnson, Henry T., James F. Antaki, and Quinter C. Beery. "Acoustical and physical dynamics of the diatonic harmonica." The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 103.4 (1998): 2134-2144.

2. Woodwind instruments and Musical acoustics

There were comprehensive investigations for woodwind instruments in the mid-70s. As a consequence the “Mississippi saxophone”, as the blues harp was called in former times, had its first appearances in physical literature in the late 80s in the context of woodwind instruments (see 3. Blues harp physics).

The School of Physics (UNSW Australia) is offering a large website, presenting acoustic research on a non-technical level.

Arthur Benade (1925 - 1987) was a pioneer in research on woodwind and brass instruments. We recommand  The Arthur H. Benade Archive (website of Stanford University). We recommend his introduction to musical acoustics, which should also be accessible for the layman:

   Arthur H. Benade, Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics, Dover Publications 1990. ASIN: B00MU91UK8

Free download of nearly all publications by Neville H. Fletcher is offered by the University New South Wales (UNSW, Australia). The collection includes in particular his 1979 paper which builds on work done by v. Helmholtz, Nederveen, Worman, Backus, Benade e. a. and which is basic for Johnston’s paper (see 3. Blues harp physics).

Fletcher, Neville H. "Excitation mechanisms in woodwind and brass instruments." Acta Acustica united with Acustica 43.1 (1979): 63-72.
Fletcher, Neville H. "Autonomous vibration of simple pressure-controlled valves in gas flows." The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 93.4 (1993): 2172-2180.

Standard textbooks are

Fletcher, Neville H., and Thomas Rossing. The physics of musical instruments. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.
Rossing, Thomas D., F. Richard Moore, and Paul A. Wheeler. The science of sound. Vol. 3. San Francisco: Addison Wesley, 2002.
Dunn, F., et al. Springer handbook of acoustics. Ed. Thomas Rossing. Springer, 2015.
Chaigne, Antoine, and Jean Kergomard. Acoustique des instruments de musique (2e édition revue et augmentée). Belin, 2013.

A compact overview over current research on musical instruments, including some remarks on free reed instruments, is given in:

Fabre, B., Gilbert, J., Hirschberg, A. and Pelorson, X. “Aeroacoustics of musical instruments.” Annual review of fluid mechanics 44 (2012): 1-25

3. Blues harp physics

In 1987 Johnston applied Fletcher’s theory to give an electric-circuit model for a player and his “Mississippi saxophone”. Fletcher’s ideas can also be found in Cottingham’s work on Asian free reed instruments.

Johnston, Robert B. "Pitch control in harmonica playing." Acoustics Australia 15.3 (1987): 69-75.
Cottingham, James P. "The Asian free-reed mouth organs." Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 112.5 (2002): 2365-2365.
Dieckman, Eric A., and James P. Cottingham. "Input impedance of Asian free reed mouth organs." The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 120.5 (2006): 3076-3076.
   Cottingham, James. "Acoustics of free-reed instruments." Phys. Today 64.3 (2011): 44-48.
Cottingham, James P. "Reed Vibration and Pitch Bending in Western Free Reed Instruments." (2013).

Millot offers an alternative approach, thereby emphasizing the necessity of nonlinear modelling:

Millot, L., Ch Cuesta, and C. Valette. "Experimental results when playing chromatically on a diatonic harmonica." Acta Acustica united with Acustica 87.2 (2001): 262-270.
Millot, Laurent, and Clément Baumann. "A proposal for a minimal model of free reeds." Acta acustica united with acustica 93.1 (2007): 122-144.
Millot, L.: Chromatical playing on diatonic harmonica: from physical modelling to sound synthesis. 162th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America San Diego (2011)

By now you can find Laurent Millot with his project "Physics of free reeds instruments: from modeling to numerical simulation" on ResearchGate (just enter "Laurent Millot ResearchGate" into any search engine).

4. Looking into the player’s mouth

Bends and Overblows as well as good sound come from inside the player. First attempts by Bahnson and Antaki to look inside a player’s mouth are documented on the website of TurboHarp or on YouTube.

MRI images of David Barrett are shown and discussed on YouTube:

Video Footage of MRI Harmonica Bending Study with David Barrett and Stanford University
The Study: MRI Harmonica Bending Study with David Barrett and Stanford University (part 1 to 4)

A scientific paper on those MRI images is:

Egbert, P. R., Shin, L. K., Barrett, D., Rossing, T., & Holbrook, A. B. (2013, June). Real-time magnetic resonance imaging of the upper airways during harmonica pitch bends. In Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (Vol. 19, No. 1, p. 035075). Acoustical Society of America.

Extensive first-hand information with the focus on teaching blues harmonica is offered by David Barrett here.

Barrett, D. Bending Process on the 10-Hole Diatonic Harmonica with the Visual Aid of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

5. Speech Synthesis

Playing experience shows that bends and overblows have to do with formants (one may call them harp formants), so research in blues harp physics could benefit from research in speech synthesis.

Fant, Gunnar. Acoustic theory of speech production: with calculations based on X-ray studies of Russian articulations. Vol. 2. Walter de Gruyter, 1971.
Wolfe, J., Garnier, M., Smith, J.: Vocal tract resonances in speech, singing, and playing musical instruments. HFSP journal 3.1 (2009), 6-23
Kröger, B. J.: Analyse von MRT-Daten zur Entwicklung eines vokalischen Artikulationsmodells auf der Ebene der Areafunktion. Elektronische Sprachsignalverarbeitung. Studientexte zur Sprachkommunikation 20 (2000), 201-208
Levinson, St., Davis, D., Slimon, and S., Huang, J. Articulatory Speech Synthesis from the Fluid Dynamics of the Vocal Apparatus. Morgan & Claypool Publishers (2012).

Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.
Back to content | Back to main menu