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.