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.

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


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.

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.


Listening And Learning From Instruments Other Than Harmonica

    As a harmonica player, it’s easy to get caught up listening to a few blues harp players. We all have our favorites, mine being: Little Walter, Big Walter Horton,William Clarke, Charlie Musselwhite to name a few.

   If I only listened to them, I would certainly get fantastic lessons in blues harp but I would be missing out on all the great music played on instruments other than blues harp.

    Listening to players of other instruments is an important part of learning to play music. There is so much to learn about phrasing, note choice, tone and many other aspects of playing music. In addition, by listening to players of other instruments, You will most likely be introduced to other positions on the harmonica and even specialty harmonicas such as the Lee Oscar minor key harps. I have them available here at my harmonica store :   http://www.harmonicasongs.net/Harmonicas2.htm

    So as an exercise, try taking a song you like with a laid back melody and a solo played by a trumpet, flute or saxaphone and figure out how to play it on your harmonica. Occasionally it might take 2 or more harmonicas to get through a song and that’s fine but in most cases, once you figure out the key and position to play, you’ll be able to play it using one harp.

    By learning songs and solos played by other instruments, you will be learning not only a lot about your harmonica but also about the big world of music.  Jam On!