Best Harmonica For Beginners

I get asked all the time “what is the best harmonica for beginners?” It sounds like an easy question but with all of the harmonicas available choosing one can be a little overwhelming! I have created a brief video showing 4 harmonicas that I think would work well for someone starting out as well as seasoned players. Take a look and I’ll have links to purchase the harmonicas shown below

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

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.

Draw 2 or Blow 3?

One of the more common questions I receive from beginning blues harp players is whether to use the draw on hole 2 or blow on hole 3. This is a valid question because they are the same note. However, if you play each one and really listen to the sound of the harmonica you will hear that while the note is the same the inflection and tone of the note is not. For most peoples’ ears, the draw 2 note sounds more gritty and powerful. This is why when playing blues, the draw 2 is king. Also, the draw 2 is the “home base” or root note for playing Crossharp.

Cross Harp Chart

While it is preferable to play the draw 2, it is perfectly ok to use the blow 3 as a passing note in order to keep the airflow moving in the same direction which might be needed to play a lick that goes by rather quickly.

Experiment with the Hole 2 draw and hole 3 blow and let me know what you think.

Have fun!


Tongue Blocking and Juke

Harmonica great Little Walter’s song “Juke” is one of the best and easiest to perform examples of the tongue blocking technique. If you haven’t heard the song, Go and get it right now! Juke is a song every harmonica player should know.

I will be creating releasing a lesson on how to play “Juke” including Little Walter’s solos but here is a taste in the meantime.

Juke by Little Walter Jacobs opening harmonica lick:
(- =draw, + = blow)

                     6   6
2   3   4   5   3   3
–   –    –   +   +   +

That’s it! easy huh?
The tongue blocking part is the last 2 notes the 3/6 split.
Simply cover holes 4 and 5 with the tip of your tongue and use the sides of your mouth to blow through holes 3 and 6.
This will take some practice so go slowly and work up to speed gradually.
Note that there are no bent notes in the Juke melody. Simply use blow and draw techniques to play it.


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.