Gear · Harmonica Players · Playing Tips

Playing Harmonica in a Rack

I’ve had a few queries recently about playing harmonica in a rack while playing guitar and if I can teach it. The short answer is yes! I’d be happy too.

The longer answer goes like this.

Although I play guitar as well as harmonica I never do both at the same time. The main reason is because I simply don’t enjoy doing it. I can do it but not to my own satisfaction. It’s an achievable skill I just haven’t put the time in to develop my chops. Every few months I dust the rack off and give it a go but there are other areas I’d prefer to spend my practice time.

What I can certainly teach with confidence is matching harmonica notes/chords to the song you’re playing, building a good solo, effective fills, learning to improvise over the chord changes, how to get a good tone, mic technique and so on. All of which is directly applicable to racked playing.

It’s a very particular skill. There are some classic blues players who did it. Here’s the Slim Harpo’s Baby Scratch My Back. Great Harp part in this.

Jimmy Reed is probably the most famous blues player to use a rack. Very cool.

Racked harp is probably most associated with folk singers though. Here’s a Woody Guthrie classic. It was Woody’s rack playing that inspired Bob Dylan to do the same.

In modern times the first name that springs to mind is Jimi Lee. Here’s a very cool version of Johnny B Goode.

It’s a great skill to have for sure. If this style appeals to you I’d encourage you to pursue it. It can be done and I’ll be happy to help where I can.