I’ve put together a collection of scale, chord and position references for blues players. It contains all the commonly used (and some uncommonly used) scales. There’s a lot more that could be included but I think this is a good start, and I can always update it. Theory Quick Reference for the Blues Harmonica Player… Continue reading Theory Quick Reference for Blues Harmonica Players
Thought this worth a quick note. If you’re planning on buying the Amazing Slow Downer from the Mac App Store (and if you haven’t you should) it’s £48.99 but you can get it direct from Roni Music for $49.95. I realise the pound isn’t worth much these days but you should save a quid or… Continue reading The Amazing Slow Downer: PSA (Again)
A friend and student pointed me towards this short video on South London harp man Errol Linton (cheers Paddy).
It’s a great video and piece of history in it’s own right, but there’s a quote near the start which really resonates with me.
“I read in this blues harp book you’re supposed to start slowly … gradually it starts getting louder .. gradually it starts feeling like a part of your mouth.”
I remember the first few times I started to feel like it was me who had control of the harmonica rather than the harmonica having control of me. This was way before I started taking a more structured approach to learning. It was in my old damp, dingy room in South Leeds and I was probably a few scrumpy’s in.
I was playing a chordal rhythm, dropping a few melody notes in here and there and it was like the harmonica was suddenly sounding like I thought it should. I was doing it almost without thinking about it. Nothing fancy or complex mind, but the sound I was making suddenly sounded like actual honest-to-goodness harmonica playing and not just like a fat bloke huffing and puffing.
It was one of the great “ah-ha!” or breakthrough moments when I realised I might actually be able to do this.
The path to learning a skill of any sort is littered with moments like these. As a rule they tend to occur when you’ve been feeling like you’re stuck in your current skill set, like you’re not advancing and you’re on the verge of giving up the whole crazy venture as a dumb idea. It’s the kind of moment that can unleash a torrent of enthusiasm and – if you’re lucky – elevate your playing to a new level.
So, I guess what I’m saying is when you’re frustrated don’t give up hope. All players go through this process of advancement and then what feels like stagnation. The good news is that it’s usually just when you feel you can’t do any more that you make your most significant breakthroughs. And for those that really want to play, that’s one of the best feelings there is.
Thought I’d kick off the new year with a quick primer on third position playing. There’s a lot more to it than this of course, and I’ll write about third position a lot more in the coming year. Meanwhile, if you’ve not ventured into third before here’s a way to get started.
The other day a student asked me how to play the harmonica riff at the start of this JD Wilkes tune.
Turns out JD is playing an A harmonica in second position putting him, and the band, in the key of E. For kicks I improvised along for a short while in third position on a D harp – that’s also the key of E – and it worked out really well.
Third is an extremely useful position for playing very bluesy or minor feeling tunes as you can access a whole minor pentatonic scale in the middle octave without needing any bends.
We’re used to using draw 2 and 6 blow (both G) as our “home” note in second position. Third position uses the draw 4 and 8 (D) instead. Try playing this up and down:
4 5 6+ 6 7+ 8
Sounds pretty cool and is quite simple to learn and play. This is called a minor pentatonic scale. Minor because it’s a minor scale and penta, meaning five, because it’s got five notes.
You can turn the minor pentatonic scale into a blues scale by simply adding the bend on 6 draw.
4 5 6+ 6 6' 7+ 8
That’s really cooking now. Grab your D harp and you can jam along with JD all day long using just those notes and sound great. Enjoy!
A great – and seasonally appropriate – tune here from Lowell Fulson. A lovely loping blues.
There’s no harmonica on it, but there’s a great horn section, and those parts can be played on your harp. In fact, approaching accompaniment as if you were a horn player is a great way to play, especially if you find yourself relying on a few cliche blues licks.
Listen to those nice swells that follow the chord changes. Try playing an octave on the 3+ 6+ for the I chord and 5+ 2+ for the IV. Start as quiet as you can and slowly build in volume as Lowell sings. This is great breath control practice by the way.
The lick that comes in on the V chord is 1+ 1′ 1 repeated (or 4+ 4′ 4 if you want to do it an octave higher).
It’s a fun way to play, and sounds especially good amplified through a nice warm tube amp.
The incomparable Rick Estrin and the Nightcats (featuring Kid Anderson of Greaseland Studios fame on guitar) are doing a brisk UK tour in January. Rick is one of the finest living blues harmonica players and his band are as good as it gets too. I was really looking forward to the Selby gig (the only… Continue reading Rick Estrin 2019 UK tour
Bit of a dull post this one but I wanted to pass on the information. If you’ve taken lessons from me you’ll have seen me using a bit of software called The Amazing Slow Downer from Roni Music. It’s a fantastic learning tool. It can slow down music tracks without changing the pitch, it can… Continue reading Amazing Slow Downer: PSA
There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to listen to a lot of Jug Band music. Something to do with the dark nights and over-abundance of forced jollity and crass sentimentality I guess. Or maybe I’m just a grinch. In any case the desire to get warm, pour a large liquor,… Continue reading Noah Lewis, the Cure for the Winter Blues
There’s precious little Big Walter footage around and I must confess I’d never seen this before. Maybe not the greatest performance in the world but man it’s good to see Walter in his element. Looks like he’s really digging this, and getting the respect he deserves from a large audience. Very cool.