Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Did You Miss This Week? (Week 216 #259)

Harmonicas For Health!!!

(...and YouMissedMonday missed Tuesday - sorry to be coming out a day late!)

We had a very special surprise guest in B1 this week, Dr. John Schaman, from the Ontario Aerobics Center in Canada. John specializes in cardiac rehabilitation and sports medicine and became interested in the idea of using the harmonica to improve lung capacity and musculature. When he heard that statistically, we lose half our lung capacity between the ages of 30 and 70, he set out to do a scientific study to check the efficacy of harmonica playing on lung health, particularly because the harp is the only modern wind instrument that plays while inhaling.

The program is available to anyone online, so hand a harp to your grandma and send her to this site to play along: H.E.L.P.

John took the time to put together this summary of his work:

"What caught my initial attention was a combination of observations and findings:
  1. Epidemiological data showing a 50% loss in lung function between the ages of 30 and 70.
  2. The common belief and observation that individuals performing certain activities such as: horn playing, opera singing, breath-hold diving, etc. have a lesser decline in lung function with aging compared to the general population (in other words, the belief that these individuals have “better lungs”).
  3. The conclusion that certain lung activities might reduce the loss of lung function that is assumed to be “normal” with aging.
  4. The conclusion that the observed decline in lung function, although following a statistical norm for our population, may not be desirable or optimal for good health and longevity.
  5. The long-term observation in my clinic that a rather significant proportion of my patients who undergo pulmonary function testing are actually significantly below the “statistical norm”, as provided by the pulmonary function algorithms (variables used to predict normal values include age, sex, ethnicity, and height).
  6. Reports from several North American and international pulmonary rehabilitation programs that harmonica playing has pulmonary “benefits”, although without any scientific or statistical evidence.
With these things in mind and realizing that the aerobic endurance exercise prescribed for cardiac rehabilitation patients does not significantly benefit pulmonary functions, I was convinced that there would be value in designing a study to research the medical effects of playing the harmonica. The purpose of the study was to determine if pulmonary exercises could possibly reduce the epidemiologically observed loss of lung function with aging. I decided to use the diatonic harmonica as the respiratory “tool” in the program/study. As the only instrument that “makes music” with both blowing and drawing, there is a potentially unique benefit to lung excursion and ultimately, to lung function. As I already had the equipment to perform intricate pulmonary function testing, I designed the research protocol, which initially appeared very simple and straightforward. Subjects were to be patients with heart and lung disease, generally over 40 years of age, who had not played the harmonica, at least in recent years. Testing was to be undertaken at the start and the end of the period of time chosen as the duration of the study.

We named the program H.E.L.P. - Harmonica Exercise for Lung Program, a lung improvement/rehabilitation program and study. After months of preliminary research and preparation the program was launched on November 29, 2007. Although the study seemed simple and straightforward, we soon learned otherwise. We taught the patients to play scales and melodies, in much the same way that most books and teaching methods seem to advocate. This immediately caused ‘technique’ frustrations as these ‘older patients’ found it hard to play “single notes.” I have since learned from harmonica teachers and advisors to our study that it may take some harmonica students as long as one year to be able to play “single notes.” Furthermore, our ambulatory patient population didn’t seem to have their lungs challenged in the way that I had expected. It is possible that in a more severely diseased population, our early methods might have been more effective. We spent many months, with the help of harmonica experts from around the world, devising a more effective ‘harmonica method’, which essentially involved rhythmic chordal playing. In retrospect this made a lot more sense and was much more effective in achieving the physiological challenges I postulated would be required.

The present methods of H.E.L.P. differ from standard harmonica teaching methods in that we are trying to develop the best pulmonary-enhancing techniques and exercises, somewhat at the expense of musicality. The traditional harmonica teaching methods did not achieve the pulmonary effects that we thought were optimal for our patient population. Our main goal is to:
  1. strengthen the muscles of respiration, including the diaphragm
  2. exercise the lungs above the “comfort zone” in the inspiratory range
  3. exercise the lungs below the “comfort zone” in the expiratory range
The next chapter will involve the unveiling of the new "Medical Harmonica" (being developed with the help of Seydel and coming soon to: and the newly developed methods that will provide a better blending of the appropriate physiological pulmonary challenges with the sought after musicality that this instrument brings to the table.



Old Town School Benefit for Japan!!!

The Old Town School is planning a benefit concert for Japan and Shoji brought some Japanese folk melodies in for us to work on. We'll play these as an ensemble for this benefit show.

Here are the three transcriptions to work on: Japanese Folk Songs

And Shoji has prioritized them in the order listed on the transcriptions so work on Roses In Bloom first, then Sukiyaki and Aka Tombo. Roses In Bloom has a tricky bend section that an ensemble may not hit together, so work on that section on your Eb harp (or your Bb) too.

Here are youtube links so you can hear the melodies:

Roses In Bloom
Aka Tombo

Saturday, April 16
909 W. Armitage

(we do not have a performance time yet - stay tuned for that)

Free-Reed Instrument Study In Physics Today!!!

Ever wonder whether those little reeds in your harp are "blown-closed" or "blown-open" type reeds? Or how they relate to the Chinese sheng or the Cajun squeezebox? Well, check out this Physics Today article and get the scientist's perspective!

Buckeye International Harmonica Festival!!!

Celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Buckeye Harmonica Festival! Coming up April 28-30 in Akron, Ohio. Full details for this great festival of workshops and concerts are here: Buckeye.

B1 Blues BBQ!!!

Hey all, Carlos Orellana is throwing a B1 bbq at his place in Hyde Park this Sunday, April 3, at noon. Here are his details:

"Hey guys,

Here is the info for the barbecue. I will start the fire at noon.
My address is
1368 E53rd Street #2
Chicago IL 60615
My phone is 312-804-6616

To get here from downtown by car, take Lake Shore Drive south and get off on 53rd street and go west until you find South Kenwood.
I am on the corner of 53rd Street and South Kenwood. There is free street parking on the north/south streets in Hyde Park.
On the following google document people can sign up, so I know how many people are coming and they can put what they want to bring:

Google Doc

All contributions are accepted: snacks, salads, entrées, dessert or beverages. And family and significant others are welcome of course. And also important, I highly encourage people to bring their instruments, I have a basic guitar, 2 amps, and a vocal and harp mic. I hope lots of people can make it so we can have a great time!!"

Class Notes

  • Joe is back and it's business as usual in classes until July!
  • The date is set for our next recital at the Harlem Avenue Lounge. Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 21!

Hey Low Harp Fans!!!

Joe blew a great solo behind "Bone" in class last night on a growling low harp. How low? Low Bb. Part of the brand new Thunderbird line of super low harps coming from Hohner which go down to low low F. These have input and endorsement from our friends Joe, Dennis Gruenling and Howard Levy. Word is out and Hohner will be officially announcing them at a trade show in Germany next week. On their own site they refer to it as "a groundbreaking innovation in the area of harmonicas". Now tell us, Hohner, where do we sign up for these babies?!

- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew

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