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Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)

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A Question for All You Harmonica Players.... (5) 08 Jun 99 - 04:04 AM 08 Jun 99 - 06:56 AM
Steve Parkes 08 Jun 99 - 07:54 AM
Jack (Who is called Jack) 08 Jun 99 - 11:03 AM
bseed(charleskratz) 08 Jun 99 - 09:15 PM
Hokumsheik 04 Feb 12 - 12:29 PM
Bobert 04 Feb 12 - 04:06 PM
PHJim 05 Feb 12 - 12:50 AM
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Subject: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
Date: 08 Jun 99 - 04:04 AM

I am interested in learning how to play the blues mouth organ. Can anyone give me any advice/information.


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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
Date: 08 Jun 99 - 06:56 AM

I think it was Sonny Terry who said the harp is a blind man's instrument. Meaning that it is all ear and you have to learn by listening to others and experimenting.

What you have to learn first is bending notes. I suggest that you use draw on the 3rd or 4th hold to practice. I wasn't born with a good ear and I had trouble telling when I had the bend exactly a semi-tone, so I did buy a book/CD that concentrated on Blues Harp, and that did help. I still sit next to the speaker and listen to the examples of bends and then make them myself. I haven't played a tune in weeks; but I think once I get that I will take off quickly.

The book/CD I used is "John Sebastian teaches Blues Harmonica" by Homespun Tapes. You can get it from them at; but it is put out by Hal Leonard, so it probably appears in music shops too.

There was another book/CD combo that looked good called "Beginning Blues Harp" by Don Baker. It takes things a little more slowly than the Sebastian book. It has one fatal flaw, however. Whoever made the CD didn't put any band markers on it, so you can't find your place. I also like the songs Sebastian teaches a little better.


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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 08 Jun 99 - 07:54 AM

Let's just get technical for a moment ...

If you can whistle, you can bend notes. Try whistling up ad down the scale and try and notice what your tongue is doing: for low notes it's pulled back and for high notes it's pushed forwards in your mouth. (It's much easier for you to do it than it is for me to describe it!)

What happens is this: your lips make the whistle, but your mouth determines the note by the length of the resonant cavity. Excuse the jargon! It's like a flute - as you cover more holes, the length of the air column inside increases, and lowers the note. (If this doesn't make much sense, don't worry - somebody else will come up with a better explanation!)

When you play the harmonica, you can affect the pitch of the note by moving your tongue. The air in your mouth resonates and forces the pitch to change. It's easier on the draw notes than the blow notes, and easier on the low notes than the high ones.

You may have to experiment with the way you hold the harmonica in your mouth (the embouchoure, as classical harmonca players call it!) to get the best effect.

Incidentally, that's how you play the jaws ("jew's") harp.


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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: Jack (Who is called Jack)
Date: 08 Jun 99 - 11:03 AM

I learned from a book called BLUES HARP by Tony (Little Sun) Glover, and from lots of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee albums.

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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: bseed(charleskratz)
Date: 08 Jun 99 - 09:15 PM

Books I've worked with are Jon Gindick's "Country and Blues Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless," from Klutz Press, naturally: a book (moderately useful), a tape (very useful), and a harmonica (C) --you can't play harmonica without one.

David Harp also has a bunch of books and tapes--and travels around the country giving workshops. Again, his tape (or his workshop) is more useful than his bood (he does have a good one on music theory, aimed at folk/blues players, but probably as good a brief introduction to the subject as there is).

But the best thing of all is to try playing along other musicians--I worked from the books and tapes mentioned above for years, but it wasn't until I started playing regularly with a group that I started getting good.

Note that blues harmonica is usually played with a harp keyed in the subdominant of the key you want to play in: To play in G you use a C harmonica (my own favorites are Lee Oskars because it's very easy to bend notes on them from the first, while most Hohners have to be broken in a bit for the bends to become easy). Use a G for the key of D, a D for the key of A, an A for E, etc. If you are playing C harmonica in G, draw on any of the first four holes when the chord is G; when it's C or C7, blow on the 4th hole or above, and when it's D or D7, draw on the 5th or sixth holes. Start with that and work in more range as you go.

More on harmonicas: I like the Lee Oskars for the reasons noted above, and also because they have a plastic comb (the core of the harp is shaped like a comb with big teeth). Wooden combs tend to swell up a bit with moisture, particularly hot waterwhich is useful for removing food particles, moustache hairs, fragments of skin, dried up spit, and so on from your harps. The Big River harmonicas by Hohner also have plastic combs, and are less expensive than Hohner blues harps.

For music other than blues, I prefer Lee Oskar Melody Maker harps--they're made to be played cross harp style, but have complete scales in the cross harp key--that is, a G MM harp is set up like a regular 10 hole C harmonica, but it has the G scale, and isn't missing the low A (a C harmonica has two low G reeds, one blow and one draw--useful in blues, but a bit of a handicap in melody playing). Also, of course, they have F# instead of F natural (F natural is important to blues in G--it's the note that turns a G major into a G7 chord.

There will be a quiz on this next week. --seed

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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: Hokumsheik
Date: 04 Feb 12 - 12:29 PM
you play what you see!………… & now ………. all for FREE!!!

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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: Bobert
Date: 04 Feb 12 - 04:06 PM

Anyone who wants to learn blues harp can do so @ Blues Week every summer at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia... It a one week workshop/music camp and not only will learn it up but you'll meet some great blues players, as well...


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Subject: RE: Learning the Harmonica (Blues Style)
From: PHJim
Date: 05 Feb 12 - 12:50 AM

Once I learned that I needed an A harp to play in the key of E, the rest came easy. Like others on this thread, I learned by playing along with Sonny & Brownie records. Charles Kratz has a lot of good info in his post. Like him I prefer the plastic comb. I have a few Lee Oscars, some Big Rivers and some Special 20s, all with plastic combs. I started playing on Marine Bands in the '60s when they were the best option. We used to soak them to make the reeds easier to bend and the wooden combs would swell. We'd then use a utility knife to shave them back and from then on they'd be uncomfortable on the tongue.

A recent discovery for me, although I use it mostly for straight playing, is the low D tuned 'harp. I'd always found the regular D kind of high pitched for playing fiddle tunes with a fiddler, but the low D puts me in the same octave as the fiddle for most tunes.

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