History Of The Blues Harmonica Concert

A few days ago I purchased and downloaded a really good recording called The History Of The Blues Harmonica Concert. It is a great overview of blues harmonica playing from before WWII up into modern times.

Put on in 2007 at the Harmonica Masterclass and released in 2010 it features a few great harmonica teachers.

Joe Filisko opens up presenting excellent examples of pre war blues including a great rendition of a train song and Lost John. many more tracks and then we are treated to David Barrett demonstrating post war blues and especially the amplified stylings of Little Walter. He also demonstrates Big Walter, George Harmonica Smith, Jerry McCain (one of my favorites) and Junior Wells.

Kinya Pollard performs a tribute to Paul Butterfield and Dennis Gruenling finishes off the night by giving us a glimpse of the future of blues harmonica (which is now considering this was recorded in 2007).

The playing on this recording is nothing short of fantastic and the spoken introductions before each track are informative. Overall, this is a fantastic album and should have a spot in every harmonica student’s collection.

Gazell Method Seydel Half Valved Harmonicas

A few months ago I purchased some Seydel harmonicas. I bought 3 half valved harps from  PT Gazell  and after spending some time playing them I can honestly say I really like them.

I purchased a “C” 1847 silver, “Bb” Session Steel and a Low Db Session Steel.

As someone who has a love/hate relationship with overblows these harps make playing jazz lines a little easier. Notice I said easier, which is to mean not a silver bullet.

I have played most of the harmonicas currently on the market and like some better than others and I think I like the Seydels the best. I would love to go and buy a whole set of Seydels but I still have a large box with about 30 brand new old stock Hohner Special 20’s , Crossovers and Marine Bands I bought about 4 years ago and also have loads of  new Lee Oskar reed plates. I do plan on picking up a few more half valved harps from PT because I like them so much.

Out of the box the harps sound and feel really good. The hole spacing is a little wider than most Hohner players are used to but if you have been playing Special 20’s it won’t be as noticable as if you have been playing Marine Bands which is what I have been playing lately. I noticed on a few forums that for some the hole spacing is a problem. I can say that for myself, It’s an easy transition that happens in a minute or so. I can go back and forth between the Hohner’s and the Seydels without much of a problem.

The valves on the Gazell Method harps are much thicker material than used by Hohner and Suzuki. PT states on his website that he has tried most every material and this works best. I agree that it works very well. I haven’t heard any of that annoying Hohner wind saver buzzing at all with these harps.

The fit and finish on these harmonicas is top notch. Seydel seems to pay attention to the details

So how do they sound you ask?

These Seydel Gazelle Method harmonicas sound fantastic. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that these are smooth and full sounding harps. I haven’t been able to get the silky smooth sound PT gets but with lots of practice maybe someday.

It’s a funny thing, I’ve been working on overblows for so long that it’s a habit now to go for the OB5 and OB6. It’s a matter of practice time spent retraining as theses Seydel’s don’t overblow because of the windsaver valves mounted on the lower 6 holes. I think I like the sound better with the valves over the overblow but the OB6 can sure sound convincing. Time will tell after I get some more playing time with them.

While I don’t think I’m getting rid of my Hohner’s right away, I do plan on picking up more of the Gazell Method half valved harps to cover more keys.

Do you play Seydels? Half valved harps? Let me know what you think. Let’s get the conversation going!

 

 

Charlie McCoy solo on Waltz Across Texas

Here’s an easy Charlie McCoy harmonica solo on the Ernest Tubb song Waltz Across Texas.

To play it you will need a diatonic harmonica in the key of D and country tuned. Country tuning is simply the 5th hole draw note raised a half step. When played in crossharp, this note is changed from the dominant seventh to the major seventh. Charlie McCoy used this tuning often.

In this solo he stays very close to the melody of the song. Get the Ernest Tubb recording of the song an listen to his phrasing. He really makes the most of a short solo which in turn makes the song and that’s what counts.

Leave a comment and let me know how you like it.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

 

Easy Harmonica Songs to Play

I thought in this post I would continue where I left off in Play me A Song And Don’t Be A Foot Shuffler and put up a few songs that are not only easy to play on the harmonica but are important songs to know. They are perfect songs to play when asked the dreaded question…”can you play a song?” Instead of looking away, shuffling your feet and mumbling something about needing a band to back you up, play one of these songs. It’s important to be able to play songs people can recognize. No one really cares if you can rip off some fast blues riff. While flashy and might impress another harmonica player it’s melodies people want to hear. I’ll be adding songs as time goes on so check back now and then.

The first song is Red River Valley. I tabbed it out in the low range of the harmonica. after you learn it there, try working it out in the high range of the harp. Enjoy!

Leave a comment and let me know what songs you want to learn!

Download (PDF, 491KB)

 

The next song is Simple Gifts. One of my favorite songs this one is easy to work up a tongue blocking arrangement.

Download (PDF, 645KB)

Play Me A Song and Don’t Be a Foot Shuffler

How about playing a song for us!

How many times have you heard that!

There are two things you can do at this moment, shuffle your feet and mumble some excuse about not knowing what to play OR  take charge of the moment and play a song that will put a smile on everyone’s face and enjoy the rest of the day (or night).

I’m willing to bet that most would do the first thing. I know I have, and I hated the feeling.

Be honest now! If you play a musical instrument then you have been asked to play a song at some point for someone or a group of people in a casual situation. Everyone knows you play music and they just want to hear a song, how hard can it be?

Pretty difficult until you get over yourself and simply play some music.

You see, I found out a while ago that no one cares if you know a million scales, chords or blues licks. In fact, no one really cares that you can play a Little Walter solo note for note or can jam for an hour with your vintage JT-30 mic and tweed Bassman amp.

People want to hear a song.

Let me tell you a true story. A few years ago I was camping out with a large group of people and there were a few who played guitars but didn’t bring them. I had mine and so there we were hanging out and someone said to me “how about playing a song”. Now I’ve been playing musical instruments for a very long time, and I can play pretty well and know chords and scales and loads of licks and can improvise well. So then why was I like a deer in headlights? Because all that stuff, the chords, scales, licks and whatnot are not music but simply the components that make up songs and songs are music.

I did the foot shuffle thing and played some blues licks and other boring stuff and was glad when everyone found it boring and went on to other things.

That wasn’t going to happen to me again.

I started learning complete songs. (sounds obvious but most people only learn the hook or maybe the first few bars).

The takeaway of my little story is that to be a musician whether you play blues, country, jazz, pop or any other style is  to know tunes and songs that people will recognize. Does this mean we can only play some top 40 song? Not at all but it helps to play something somewhat well known before launching into an obscure tune that just sounds like a bunch of blues licks.

Foe me in addition to blues, I especially like bluegrass and old time music. So I might play a song such as “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” and then maybe a simple fiddle tune such as “Soldier’s Joy”.

Don’t be a foot shuffler and take charge of the situation and play music

Tell me your foot shuffling story in the comments section below and if you decided to do something about it!

Christmas songs are a fun and easy way to add songs to your library and you Will need to know a few once people find out you play a musical instrument. Go here for my Christmas For Harmonica songbook

 http://harmonicajoe.com/?p=241

7 Reasons Why Playing The Harmonica Is Awesome

I was playing my Hohner Marine Band Crossover today working out a cool Sonny Terry riff. If you haven’t heard of Sonny Terry, check him out. There is a lot of material on youtube and other sites.

As I was practicing, I started thinking about what a great little musical instrument the harmonica is. Then I started to make a list of why it is so great and here’s what I came up with.

  1. You can play the harmonica anywhere. The harmonica is a portable musical instrument that is easy to keep in your pocket. Whenever you have a spare moment simply pull it out and start jamming!
  2. Relatively speaking, the harmonica is one of the most inexpensive musical instruments. I realize that harmonica prices have increased exponentially the last few years but compared to a trumpet or flute, it’s not that much. This low cost makes it fun and easy to try out harmonicas of various brands and tunings.
  3. It is easy to play many different styles of music on one simple harmonica. Jazz, Blues, Country, Reggae, World music can all be played on the 10 hole diatonic harmonica.
  4. Easy to learn! Anybody can play the harmonica because it is the easiest musical instrument to play. A few minutes after opening the box most are able to play something recognizable. try that with a violin, saxophone or tuba!
  5. Loads of information available on learning the harmonica. Just today I was looking for information about Irish harmonica players and after a couple of google searches found loads of information and music about traditional Irish harmonica players. The internet has made it much easier to find more than a lifetime’s information on how to play various styles of harmonica.
  6. The harmonica has a rich and varied history. Most people are familiar with blues harp but did you know that the harmonica has a rich heritage in classical music? Harmonicas have been played on the stages of the finest concert halls throughout the world. In fact more harmonica music is available to play now than ever before. In addition to music of the western world, the harmonica can be heard in the folk music of many different cultures.
  7. Playing the harmonica is FUN!

I Don’t Want To Sound Like Every Other Harmonica Player

As a harmonica player, it’s easy to get caught up in listening only to a few favorite blues harp players. We all have our favorites mine being, William Clarke, Little Walter, Jerry Portnoy, Big Walter Horton Adam Gussow and a few others.

If I only listened to these great blues harmonica players and no others, I would still be getting a lifetime of lessons on how to play blues harp. That’s all well and good but it’s a big world out there and by limiting yourself to only a few musicians or bands you are missing out on so much more great music.

In addition to listening and studying blues harp players, it’s also great to listen and study musicians on other instruments as well. There is so much to learn about, phrasing, note choice and tone. In addition it will introduce you to other positions on the harmonica and possibly encourage you to seek out alternate tuned harmonicas such as the Lee Oskar Melody Maker and Harmonic minor tuned harps.

Here’s an exercise to try out:

Take a song you like with a laid back melody (not too many notes) played on a trumpet or saxaphone and figure it out on your harmonica. First determine if it is in a major or minor key. That will determine what harmonica and position you might start out in. Next try and find where the notes fit on your harmonica. This might take a few tries to figure out which key harmonica to use. Then pick out the notes of the melody and play along with the recording. Note: many times the melodic line a song or solo moves to a different key. Don’t worry, you can either figure out what position to use for that part of the song or simply pick up a different harmonica to play that section.

I realize is is a little more difficult than I make it sound in a few paragraphs. The key is to not give up! Go slow and if it takes a while to figure out a few notes, no problem! you are on your way. take a break for a job well done and go back to it later and get a few more notes.

By doing this over and over you will be adding to your harmonica vocabulary and eventually you’ll have a unique voice on the instrument, not sounding like everyone else.

Blues harp Jamming video featured on Harmonica.com

A big thank you goes out to JP Allen for featuring my video on his website!

http://www.harmonica.com/joe-stoebenau-48491.html

We recorded this several years ago and I remember it being done in one take. One take because it was the middle of summer and the bugs were swarming around us. We couldn’t wait to get out of there! The scenery is perfect. We recorded it on an old abandoned railway line in Southeast PA.

Unleash The Musician Within You In 3 Minutes Or Less!

Take a look around your house.

Can you see your guitar or harmonica?

Or, is it stashed in some dark corner never to see the light of day until you mercifully

unlock it from it’s confines and let it breathe sweet music into your life.

One of the most important keys to playing a musical instrument is simply to play the thing every day.

That’s it.

Simple as that.

Now, I can hear the excuses coming in.

My house is too small, my kids or pet iguana might knock it over, etc.

Believe me, I understand. I have five dogs bouncing off the walls in my tiny shoebox of a house!

Are you going to let some lame excuse like that rule your life and drain all the joy out of your music?

Look, it’s a proven fact that when you’re musical instrument is hidden away you are less and less likely to find the time to play it.

Don’t kid yourself, you know what I am talking about. It happens to everybody at some point, even me.

Instead of being disappointed that you can’t remember how to play a song or phrase that you spent so much time on a few weeks ago, or that the strings on your guitar have turned into blackened, rusty and toneless lengths of wire, keep your instrument in a prominent, well trafficked area of the house so that you can pick it up at a moment’s notice and strum a few chords while waiting for the spaghetti to boil.

I remember seeing Chuck Mangione on the Johnny Carson show many years ago and he said he had a horn in every room of his house so that he could play any time there was a free couple of minutes.

hmmm, sounds like a good idea wouldn’t you say?

I realize not all of us can do that so instead have one instrument in the room you use most. Keep it in the case if you have to but just make it easy and convenient to access.

These quick 3 minute practice sessions really pay off huge dividends in the long run.

While you are at it, try to focus on one simple thing at a time such as a particular barre chord or simple phrase.

In no time at all you will be sounding like the musician you want to be!

Energize your music and your life!

 

 

 

 

copyright 2013 Joe Stoebenau Music

The Biggest Harmonica Myth

Years ago when the only harmonica worth while for playing
blues was the venerable Hohner Marine Band. It sounded great
but leaked air around the wood comb which made them play inconsistantly.
There were some musicians that would soak their harps
in a glass of water and there are even some stories
of soaking them in whiskey! I’m sure most of us have
heard of this at one time or another.

These musicians would soak their harps to get better tone.
While this is true, what was actually happening is that the
moisture from the liquid would cause the wood comb to swell
up sealing any gaps along the reed plates thus
producing less air leakage and a fuller tone and greater volume
from their harp. The water did just fine and as far as the
whiskey goes, it probably did more harm than good by gumming up the
reeds and inducing corrosion on the reedplates.

Today we don’t need to do this and I don’t advise soaking
your harp, wood or otherwise in any liquid. I know there
are some that even soak their plastic comb harps! This really
won’t do anything except make them corrode and wear out quicker.
Modern harmonicas including the Marine Band are much better constructed
and the new Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover harps have sealed
combs so the wood expansion is no longer an issue.

Keep your harps clean and tap them on your leg or hand
when finished playing to get the moisture out and you’ll
have your harmonica for a long time.